books for women, Culture, Digital reading, marriage and relationships, nonfiction

The Black Girl’s Guide to Being Blissfully Feminine.

blissfully feminine

The Black Girl’s Guide to Being Blissfully Feminine, by Candace Adewole. Kindle edition. Originally published in July 2016.

This is a short book, one I was able to read from beginning to end in about two hours. Nonetheless, it’s full of thought-provoking, soul-stirring truisms that black women need to hear. It’s not perfect as no book is, but -and this is especially true for the non-religious woman- it’s the truest counsel I’ve ever read directed at black women. Ms. Adewole well expresses what it is going to take for black women to stop being considered, in the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “the mules of the world”.

Because it’s a short book, I’m going to keep this review short by using the bad news first/good news last approach. Thankfully, there is far more good news than bad.

The Bad News

  • It sometimes felt a little new-agey when the author ventured off into discussions of “black girl magic” and “feminine mystique”, not to be confused with the Betty Friedan school of thought.
  • Some of the sex advice went too far. The best way to figure out how to please your husband -in any area- is to ask him or read obvious context clues if he’s less given to saying what he wants.
  • Too extreme on the provisional aspect of a relationship in the dating stage: I get and completely agree with the overall principle that one of the things a man is charged to do is provide for his woman. However at the dating stage, I don’t think it is wise to advise that a woman should never split the bill or pick up the tab. My experience, old and limited though it may be, is that it is entirely possible to find the balance and still end up with a husband ready and willing to be the primary provider.
  • Too much emphasis on the value of travel, although I can appreciate her assertion that other cultures are more open to acknowledge the beauty of darker women than one finds here in America. It’s something I’ve heard expressed by various women throughout my life.

The Good News

  • Despite my discomfort with the sexual specifics, the sexual advice to women in the market for a husband was very conservative. In fact, the author advised women to refrain from sex at all until officially engaged and wedding plans in motion. No, it doesn’t go far enough to satisfy the tenets of my Christian faith, but it isn’t a Christian book and the author didn’t specify any religious faith.
  • Excellent advice on the value of silence and -if you must speak- doing so quietly with language free of any and all profanity. Truthfully, from what I have seen and heard, this is hardly advice only black women need to hear. It has nothing to do with prudishness, snobbishness, or religiosity (though that should be a consideration for some of us). It has everything to do with femininity and grace.
  •  Acknowledging the healing power of feminine touch. Although it was something the author learned via observation through marriage to a Latino man, being affectionate not only with our men but our friends and family members is important. We Americans tend to zealously guard our space bubbles, and the hypersexualization of the culture coupled with many black women’s penchant for wearing permanent armor makes this a hard hurdle to leap. But at least she put it out on the track.
  • The understanding that being comfortable in your own skin and with where you came from isn’t mutually exclusive to forming bonds with all kinds of people and meeting all kinds of men.
  • The importance of smiling, laughing, not going through life with a chip on your shoulder, and avoiding what is known as “resting bi*ch face“. There was also included the advice to use a gratitude journal if necessary to maintain a more positive outlook.
  • Emotional vulnerability: Mules can’t be emotionally vulnerable. When you are carrying your load, your kids’ load, your man’s load, and doing so without missing a beat, emotional vulnerability is an unaffordable luxury. Black women are expected to “hold it down” for everyone, and Adewole -rightly- calls B.S. on that. Many black women take on this role, swallow their feelings (literally and figuratively if our obesity rates are any indication), and wear the superhero cape with pride. That is, right up until they crash and burn (if mental illness and instability rates are any indication). Adewole address all of these issues with frankness and candor, understanding that rather than airing dirty laundry, she invoking the permission to heal and live a balanced life.
  • Acknowledgment that wanting to be loved and cherished is as acceptable for black women as any other women. She did a good job overall, so I’ll wrap this up with my favorite lines from the book:

I thoroughly detest being called a “strong” black woman for its masculine connotation, the underlying implication that I am somehow built for hard labor, like some animal, and that I am undeserving to be treated like a lady who needs (and wants) to be protected, cared for, adored, cherished, and treated gently.

She continues a bit further on:

I prefer to be called a feminine black woman or a resilient black woman because, although technically a synonym of the word “strong”, the meaning feels better and more feminine. Resilience and personal fortitude are what you must have mentally and emotionally to get through tough times. I don’t want to be “strong”. I DO need a man. I DO want help. I DO want to be taken care of and protected. I DO need community, and I wear dresses, not capes.

There was a some beauty and health advice in the book as well, but those chapters are all well tilled ground, unlike the parts I highlighted here. I stumbled upon this book and read it for the curiosity factor, having been spared a lot of these struggles through the presence of strong, protective men throughout my entire life and marriage. But I think it is well worth a read for the 70% of black women who have not been so blessed.

4 out of 5 stars

 

 

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books for women, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction, philosophy, politics, Uncategorized

Blogging through The Feminine Mystique

feminine mystique

The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. Originally published in 1963. Hardcover. 592 pages.

In an effort to be less inclined to have strong opinions about things I know little about yet have the ability to know more about, I have decided  there are a few books I should read for myself. These are the books that are referred to frequently by people for ideological reasons to promote their agendas. The kinds of books where the sum total of the view being presented is forever cemented in our minds based on the 10 well worn quotes that we’ve all read hundred of times over the years.

One book I decided to read -and blog through- is Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. I don’t expect reading it to alter my perspective, conviction, or beliefs regarding feminism. In fact, I am certain that it won’t. The results on the experiment of radical feminism are in, and they speak for themselves.

What I am most interested in is dichotomous experiences to the women Friedan references (in her first two chapters, for instance) when compared to women in less pampered circumstances. I also want to see if Friedan noted how the Industrial Revolution, whatever it added standard of living in aggregate, drastically changed the nature of the domestic sphere and the intrinsic value it added to the bottom line in the years when our economy was more agrarian.

In other words, I want a full picture of the alignment of family life and life for women in the 1950s leading up to the time of the publication of The Feminine Mystique. Even a cursory bit of research reveals that family life for most Americans was a far cry from the television portrayal of The Andersons and The Cleavers. This was especially true for my parents and grandparents, yet we are constantly presented that narrative of the 1950s as indicative of mainstream America.

I have reasons for this interest which may or may not be revealed in 2019, but let’s see if there are any unheralded surprises -at least surprises to me- to be found in The Feminine Mystique.

 

 

fiction, marriage and relationships, short stories

Short Story Review: The Bachelor

The Bachelor, by Joseph Epstein. Posted at Standpoint Magazine Online, July/August 2018 edition. Read the story in its entirety here.

One of the literature and arts websites I subscribe to is Prufrock, which is published by the Weekly Standard. This short story was included in the latest edition sent to my inbox. Because it is a short story, easily read in 20 minutes, it would be really enjoyable to me if any of you inclined to click over and read it would come back here and share your thoughts.

The Bachelor is written as a first person narrative whose titular character is of course, a bachelor; a lifelong one. At 52-years of age, he is a successful attorney thoroughly enjoying his freedom. The minor things that most of us marrieds have concluded are well worth sacrificing for our beloveds and the families we’ve built are no longer minor sacrifices to the bachelor, and life is good.

Despite the fact that he genuinely enjoys women, he simply hasn’t found one worth the trouble of giving up his autonomy. That is, until he meets Laura Ross.

That’s as much as I can offer without spoiling the story, so click over and read it.

I liked it.

Content advisory: It’s a clean story in so far as it is free of any gratuitous sex or language, but it’s a very adult story and our bachelor is living the life of a healthy, red-blooded, secular bachelor. It’s not a Christian morality tale.

books for women, marriage and relationships, nonfiction, politics

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism.

politically incorrect guide

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism, by Carrie L. Lukas. Copyright 2006. Hardcover, 221 pages.

The wonderful thing about books and literature is that there are few subjects which haven’t been covered by someone at some time. I read The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism at least 5 years ago (maybe more), and I hadn’t thought much about the book in two or three. Whenever I purge our bookshelves, I keep it tucked away on a shelf because I want it to be available for my daughters to read.

After witnessing yesterday what can only be described as a national disgrace masquerading as a legal proceeding, I remembered a few things. The first was that in 47 years on the planet, I have somehow never managed to 1) get drunk or 2) attend a party where most of the attendees was getting drunk. This was true even when I was a teenager, and even during the years when I was walking contrary to the Christian faith in which I was raised. It’s amazing what can be avoided when you watch the company you keep.

Secondly, I remembered this book, and how much I appreciated the candor used and the unapologetic way that Carrie Lukas laid out unpalatable truths. A cursory glance at the reviews for the book on Amazon and Good reads demonstrates how offensive many women found the book. I on the other hand, thought it was very well written, filled with objective analysis of  the ways women are more vulnerable. It was filled with what used to be considered universally sound truth rather than attacked as politically incorrect ideology.

Unvarnished truth is a medicine that often tastes bad going down, but if we take it like adults, we just might find healing. At the end of chapter 2, on page 18 Lukas lists what she titled, “Top Ten Things Young Women Need to Know (that feminists won’t tell them)”. I’ll list them here, with the recommendation that you read the book even if you’re not as averse to feminist thought as I am, because the ideas are worth pondering.

The Top Ten Things

  • Flowers, candy, and opened doors aren’t weapons of oppression. Chivalrous gestures show a guy actually respects you and may be interested in a relationship.

  • You’re most fertile in your twenties. During your thirties, fertility declines and many women have trouble getting pregnant after age 35. Plan ahead! [some of this stuff is beyond a woman’s control, of course, but deliberate postponement of marriage is foolish]

  • Discrimination isn’t why women make less money than men. Women make different choices and have different priorities which results in them earning less.

  • Condoms are not a get-out-of-STD-free device; condoms do little or nothing to prevent the spread of several serious STDs.

  • Kids raised by their parents [Els’ translation: mothers] tend to have fewer emotional and behavioral problems than kids who spend long hours in day care.

  • Not everyone is doing it [emphasis mine]. Fewer of your peers than you think are engaging in casual sex- and those who are often regret it.

  • There’s no shame is aspiring to marry- married people tend to be happier, healthier, and better off financially.

  • Divorce doesn’t erase a marriage- it creates a new set of problems for you and your children.

  • You should make goals in your personal life just like you do in your career.

  • Being a woman doesn’t make you a victim. You have choices to make, and choices to live with. That’s what being liberated and independent is all about.

~ The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex , and Feminism, p. 18

5 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

Els' Rabbit Trails, marriage and relationships, videos

Deep woods rabbit trail: Why online dating is ruining Western Civilization.

For reasons I cannot begin to imagine (or maybe I can), the largest percentages of clicks this blog receives in any given week are directed towards the posts reviewing the chapters of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance.

Most of the readers are from the U.S., however as many as a third are from around the globe. Something about that book clearly strikes a nerve with people and as they look for analysis, Google sends some here. This factoid is my excuse for a deep woods* rabbit trail post.

A friend recently shared with me a video titled, Why Online Dating is Ruining Western Civilization by Mayim Bialik. Now normally, the combination of a famous Hollywood actress and the words patriarchy spilling from her lips causes me to roll my eyes in a combination of disdain and disgust, but the overwhelming majority of what Ms. Bialik shares here is so funny and tinged with truth that I will forgive her that folly.

It’s worth the 7 minutes, perhaps even if you disagree. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

 

*Deep woods rabbit trail posts are posts that generally veer far away from the subjects of reading, books, writing and education. They are few and far between, as they should be.

American history, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction, philosophy, politics

Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community

sex economy freedom community book

Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community: Eight Essays by Wendell Berry. Published in 1993. 208 pages.

I have always loved the commentary and writings of the insightful, prolific Wendell Berry. Reading his book, “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community”, it became clearer why I find his perspective so refreshing. How often have we heard the connection made between our culture’s predilection to specialization and compartmentalization with the destruction of the economy, sexuality, marriage, family, community, and the nation?

Very rarely I submit, although it’s a connection which is hard to deny upon serious observation and even harder to address as our culture succumbs more and more to the seduction of the “me first” mentality. A mentality which is largely driven by our increasing focus on individual rights at the expense of everything and every one, up to and including our own parents, our own children, and their children.

In the book’s title essay, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community Berry attempts to piece together how our movement away from interdependence and local community standards and toward a tendency to think globally has impacted our most intimate relationships, and how sexual love in general and marriage in particular have been irreparably damaged as a result:

There are two kinds of sexuality that correspond to the two kinds of economy. The sexuality of community life, whatever its vagaries, is centered on marriage, which joins two living souls as closely as, in this world, they can be joined. This joining of two who know, love, and trust one another brings them in the same breath into the freedom of sexual consent and into the fullest earthly realization of the image of God. From their joining, other living souls come into being, and with them great responsibilities that are unending, fearful, and joyful. The marriage of two lovers joins them to one another, to forebears, to descendants, to the community, to Heaven, and earth. It is the fundamental connection without which nothing holds, and trust is its necessity.

Our present sexual conduct, on the other hand, having “liberated” itself from the several trusts of community life, is public, like our present economy. It has forsaken trust, for it rests on the easy giving and breaking of promises. And having forsaken trust, it has predictably become political. “Losing kindness” as Lao-tzu said, they turn to justness.” (p. 134-135)

This is sadly correct. Sexual politics is a dominant and lucrative industry in America today. Divorce law, child support enforcement, abortion rights, contraceptive availability, health departments to deal with communicable diseases, sexual harassment, and on it goes. All of these institutions have grown in our misguided attempt to interject perfect justice and the semblance of safety into the necessarily murky business of male/female interpersonal relations. As a result, most women view every man as a potential aggressor and many men have grown to view every woman as a potential accuser of anything form date rape to dead beat fatherhood. This is supposed to liberating? Berry continues:

The difficulty is that marriage, family life, friendship, neighborhood, and other personal connections do not depend exclusively or even primarily on justice-though, of course, they all must try for it. They depend also on trust, patience, respect, mutual help, forgiveness-in other words, the practice of love, as opposed to the mere feeling of love.

As soon as the parties to a marriage or a friendship begin to require strict justice, then that marriage or friendship begins to be destroyed…(p.135)

And this of course, is exactly what has happened on a grand scale. As sexuality has become a commodity to be consumed (think of the quest for hotness at all costs), coupled with the right to do whatever feels good to us without regard for anyone else, and we have all but destroyed the beauty of sexual love and marriage. Sex sells. There is even a new term for the atmosphere in which people pair off: the sexual marketplace. No longer are the terms “husband” or “wife” adequate to describe the person we share our most intimate relations with. The term is now sexual “partners” and we gauge others’ sexual morality not by their fidelity in marriage but by their “partner count.” The language of intimacy is now the language of the marketplace.

People enter into marriage under the spell of sexual infatuation, failing to recognize that the practice of love, rather than the mere feeling of love, is what keeps a marriage alive, growing and fulfilling. The values of the marketplace, of quid pro quo, has usurped the place of love and forgiveness, reducing marriage to nothing more than an arrangement that lasts as long as our arbitrary and fickle senses of satisfaction are appeased.

Sadly, Berry notes, we have moved into a culture that can only be described as nihilist, one where most people are not interested in or able to be contented with this diffusion of love. They want to continue to have love focused myopically on them and them alone, as this is what society has groomed us to believe that marriage is all about.

A society whose members are concerned only with themselves, their individual needs, and are slaves to their passions with no regard for the greater good can be described no other way than nihilist. Churchgoing, “civic minded” nihilists, but nihilists nonetheless because a life spent pursuing personal pleasure-no matter what euphemisms we use to make it seem otherwise- is a useless, hopeless life. Our selfish greed can never be truly satisfied. Fulfillment is found through service and love executed in practice, not as the pursuit of sensations. And it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if we call ourselves liberal or conservative, as Mr. Berry so eloquently states:

“The conventional public opposition of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ is, here as elsewhere, perfectly useless. The ‘conservatives’ promote the family as a sort of public icon, but they will not promote the economic integrity of the household or the community, which are the mainstays of family life. Under the sponsorship of ‘conservative’ presidencies, the economy of the modern household, which once required the father to work away from home – a development that was bad enough – now requires the mother to work away from home, as well. And this development has the wholehearted endorsement of ‘liberals,’ who see the mother thus forced to spend her days away from her home and children as ‘liberated’ – though nobody has yet seen the fathers thus forced away as ‘liberated.’ Some feminists are thus in the curious position of opposing the mistreatment of women and yet advocating their participation in an economy in which everything is mistreated.”

Most contemporary rhetoric about service and duty is nothing more than the demagoguery of hypocrites, playing on our emotions for the sake of their own ambitions:

There is no denying, of course, that “community” ranks with “family,” “our land,” and “our beloved country” as an icon of the public vocabulary; everybody is for it, and this means nothing. p. 132

Now that we have stated the problem, the next step is to work toward a solution. The question then, is how do those of us who yearn for community, family, respect for the land and love for country achieve even a semblance of either while surrounded by a culture for whom these things are nothing more than feel good rhetoric at best and obstacles to personal desire and ambitions at worst?

Berry offers solutions, but they are hard solutions for a culture of people comfortably entrenched in an easy, resistance-free way of life. Here, he gets credit for trying.

5 out of 5 stars.

I originally wrote this read and reviewed this book in 2012, but it seems more relevant today than it did even when I first read it, so I’m featuring it here. Reviews for more recently read books are in draft and forth coming.

books for women, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction

Otherhood.

Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, by Melanie Notkin. Originally published in 2014. 320 pages.

The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one. However, we’ll start with an overview of what the book is about as opposed to what it purports to be about, which is how the increasing number of childless women in our culture can live fulfilling lives of contribution.

Otherhood, a title I ran across while reading an article somewhere, piqued my curiosity for reasons that have little to do with being a modern woman longing for a new kind of happiness. Perfectly content with my old-fashioned kind of happiness, I sought this book out because of my intense interest in what it takes to build community across all lines. Community, of the real life, flesh and blood variety, is something I think a lot about.

In our current culture, where marriage rates are plummeting for all kinds of reasons, how can families integrate single, childless people into our lives seamlessly in ways that increase cohesiveness, and perhaps even create opportunities for people of like faith and values to meet and form families? The fact that this author is reportedly a devout traditional Jewish woman came back to bite me because the tone of the book was anything but that of a traditional religious woman.

This tome was a big, long lament about the treacherous and unfriendly water that the New York City sexual marketplace is for a single woman looking for love and marriage. True love of course, and nothing less, and how her refusal to marry a man she doesn’t want to have sex with after 20 years of looking makes her a victim of “circumstantial infertility”. Mind you, however, none of this means she is looking for a Prince Charming (language alert):

“I mean, is Prince Charming really the kind of man who seems like he knows how to have great sex? Because he doesn’t seem like that to me.” He seems like a great-looking guy who got lucky being born into royalty. I’m not attracted to lucky. I’m attracted to hard work. Hard work is much more f*ck-able than luck-able.”

Not being aware of the latest authority on cultural hot topics has come back to bite me on many occasions, and this was another one. If I had taken the time before reading this 300+ page whine-fest, I would have been fully aware of what I could expect from Otherhood and its author’s schtick.

Of the 28 chapters in this book, fully 19 of them were about the heartbreak and hazards of dating in NYC. Does the state of affairs in NYC surprise anyone besides the author and her friends who contributed stories to this book?

The only chapter which even began to touch on the subject I was interested in was near the end, titled “Savvy Aunties”. That particular chapter was about the ways that women whose maternal instinct was never allowed to give physical birth could be manifested in myriad ways to the children they know and love and even those they don’t who just need love.

To Notkin’s credit, she steadfastly refused to take the advice of her friends and colleagues who implored to either have a baby on her own, or marry a man with whom she had no desire to build a life whatsoever for the sake of having a baby. Unfortunately, she was so obsessed with first date chemistry that she dismissed a lot of men with whom she might have been able to build a beautiful traditional Jewish family.

In the end, despite all her protestations to the contrary, she wasn’t as traditional as she thought she was. And while I am fully convinced that there truly are women -and men!- out there who are “circumstantially infertile” in this culture does everything in its power to dissuade, marginalize, and isolate the very people who would be best equipped to pass on religious morals and values to the next generation, Notkin did not persuade me that she was among that number. She wasted a valuable opportunity.

Traditional Judaism with a side of Sex in the City is not a recipe that encourages family formation nor strong families.

Like said, the cognitive dissonance was strong in this one.

2 out of 5 stars.

content advisory: Smatterings of frank sex talk, but nothing overly graphic or over the top.