June 2011

How To Talk To Little Girls

A recent Huffington Post article has stirred up a lot of controversy, angst, trolling, and snarkiness online. Personally, it puts me in the very odd position of feeling that the article isn't very good, but that its message is critical.
There are many things that might rub a reader the wrong way, here. The author's tone is relentlessly self-satisfied. And who wants to be told what to do by someone who sounds so smug? Nevertheless, she's right: we need to stop complimenting little girls on their appearance, and start finding ways to compliment their minds.

In wake of "Amina Arraf" blog, another "lesbian" blogger comes out as a man

White men assumed the voices of minorities, women and lesbians because they don't have enough of their own power.

You have to have a lot of tricks up your sleeve to perpetrate a hoax for six years.  You must think in somebody else’s point-of-view—one you yourself can’t understand, steal a lot of photographs of people who aren’t you and most of all, make up a lot of lies.  People with a talent for this kind of fiction should be penny novelists, not bloggers. 

Unfortunately, Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old American citizen studying at a Scottish university, chose the second route, creating a blog persona named Amina Arraf.  Allegedly, Amina was an open lesbian in Damascus and ran a blog called “Gay Girl in Damascus” for over six years.  MacMaster’s lie may never have been discovered if he hadn’t gotten cocky—he posted on his that authorities in Damascus had kidnapped Amina. 

After MacMaster posted that Amina had been kidnapped, American journalists started trying to track down people in Damascus who knew Amina.  NPR’S Andy Carvin tried to talk to people who had met the blogger in person to no avail.  More media sources tried to track her down, but no one could.  Because of the huge public and media outcry for help for Amina, MacMaster posted on the blog that Amina did not and never had existed. 

MacMaster told The Guardian that he had Amina kidnapped so he could stop portraying the character he created out of vanity.  He tried to redeem himself by saying that he hoped that Amina was a role model to some of the closeted homosexuals in the Middle East. He also said that he always wanted to write fiction, but all of his attempts were only met with rejection. 

Here is his commentary, posted on his blog:

Amina came alive. I could hear her ‘voice’ and that voice and personality were clear and strong. Amina was funny and smart and equal parts infuriating and flirtatious. She struggled with her religious beliefs and sexuality, wondered about living in America as an Arab; she wanted to find a way to balance her religion and her sexuality, her desire to be both a patriotic American and a patriotic Arab. Amina was clever and fun and had a story and a voice and I started writing it, almost as though she were dictating to me. Some of her details were mine, some were those of a dozen other friends borrowed liberally, others were purely ‘her’ from the get go.

If MacMaster weren’t bad enough, another part of the story broke yesterday. Before she was “kidnapped” a number of American bloggers had “met” Amina, letting her guest blog on their websites and exchanging emails with her.  One was Paula Brooks, the creator of the website LezGetReal.com.  Amina had blogged for Brooks and they had exchanged emails.

Yesterday, Paula Brooks, the pseudonym of the gay woman who had been corresponding with Amina, was discovered to be a 58-year-old man named Bill Graber. He never would have come forward if he had not been involved in the Amina hoax. Graber will hand over the control of the website to one of the website’s actually gay (hopefully!) contributors. 

These white men don’t seem to understand what a terrible crime this is.  They assumed identities they could not possible understand—female, queer, Arab—and controlled the output that those identities sent out in the world.  In essence, they stole a voice that wasn’t theirs to transmit.  Because there is nothing legitimate they can say with these voices. If one person hates a lesbian or an Arab or a woman or if one person feels that their understanding of a lesbian or an Arab or a woman has been completely shattered in wake of these hoaxes, these men are criminals.  No matter what, these men are criminals. 

And I wish they could go on Oprah and have Oprah scream at them like she screamed at James Frey.  These men are worse than James Frey because Frey only took his own voice and made it more interesting than it actually was.  These men should not be let off the hook with lame apologies saying that they are nerdy and their fiction is not good enough to be published on its own merit.

The level of anonymity provided on the Internet is dangerous. The most terrifying part is the Internet’s ability to cut off the source.  You receive facts, but you don’t know from where those facts are culled.  You meet a person on an online dating website, but you don’t know if he’s a 25-year-old Seattleite or a fat Russian mobster in Kiev.  You don’t know if the woman that you are identifying with is an Arab-American lesbian in Damascus or a fat 40-something in Edinburgh. 

These men should be punished.  Internet crime punishments are not moving nearly as fast as the crimes being committed.  The Internet is becoming what American cities at the turn of the century used to be: without law or punishment so you can be everyone and no one at the same time.   


Georgia Tries to Criminalize Miscarriage

Republican-backed bill would make every miscarriage the target of police investigation


Sometimes, in their attempts to gain absolute jurisdiction over the uterus of every woman, male politicians end up looking pretty silly. The latest in womb-governing comes out of Georgia, where Republicans are trying to criminalize miscarriages. After all, fetuses are people and miscarriages might very well be manslaughter or even murder if purposely induced. In addition to classifying abortion quite literally as murder, Georgia state Rep. Bobby Franklin would also have police investigate all miscarriages. It would be the onus of the miscarrying woman to report the incident and obtain a fetal death certificate. If sufficient evidence were found indicating that the woman held responsibility for the miscarriage, she could find herself in some serious trouble. The bill makes no exceptions for rape victims or any other women. So, you know, if you're poor enough to be malnourished and your body decides it can't take the stress of making another human in addition to sustaining you, you might be a baby-killer. 

Gwyneth Paltrow marks her decline into rom-coms with a cookbook

Remember when Gwyneth Paltrow was in Shakespeare in Love?  She was ethereal—pale white in those ornamented gowns—and good—she won the Academy Award in 1998.  Apparently, this award became a curse.  Gwyneth didn’t know what to do with herself, taking questionable roles in films and a career break.  Lately, she recorded a country hit for her movie, Country Strong.

She’s attempting a comeback, it seems.  And that’s what everyone thought her recently published cookbook, My Father’s Daughter:  Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness, would be.  But, aside from a Holly Hobby-ish photograph of Gwyneth smiling near a butcher block of cheese and a glass of wine on the front cover and a few other complaints, the consensus seems to be that the book is pretty much okay.

Critics seem to agree that only a celebrity could write the cookbook. The book’s theme isn’t cuisine focused, but is more about loving food with one’s family and friends. While this is fine, the critics say, some of Gwyneth’s food excursions are atypical (read, pricier) than a normal family’s cook-and-sit-at-the-dining-room table experience.  For example, Gwyneth and her late father had a wonderful meal of duck ragu.  Fine, but this particular meal was on a “culinary road trip” throughout rural Italy. Not your typical meat-and-potatoes kind of eater, Gwyneth.   

In addition, a lot of the recipes ingredients and culinary tools only match an extremely wealthy (read, a celebrity) person’s budget.  Gwyneth includes a substitution chart at the beginning of the book, which says that readers can substitute simple mayonnaise for the called-for Vegenaise and pig bacon for duck bacon (?). Cooking tools, too, are exceptionally high end, assuming that the reader has a kitchen stocked with butcher block countertops, a Vitamix blender and a Le Creuset Dutch oven.

Critics also like the book and its recipes.  The recipes are diverse and, for the most part, healthy.  Most do not require a ton of time or a personal assistant to whip eggs while bent over backwards.  The book’s footnotes, whether Gwyneth herself wrote them, are relatable, not too cute and only include minimal celebrity friend references. 

Despite these favorable reviews, however, two of the most important questions about Gwyneth and her book still remain. Would an actor (male) —a real actor, like Gwyneth, mind you—ever make his Hollywood comeback with something domestic like a cookbook?  And, did Gwyneth really want to write this thing? 

Here’s where the non-culinary problems come in.  A male actor would never write this book because a male actor of Gwyneth’s acting caliber and celebrity wouldn’t need to make a comeback.  If male actors who are taken seriously as actors make shoddy movie choices, they are forgiven and still allowed to be serious actors. They are never flung from the limelight like poor Gwyneth. Male actors, too, would never enter the domestic sphere. Male actors necessarily need to remain untouchable—they are celebrities!

Alternatively, most actresses need to cultivate a relatable appeal—men think they can bang them; women learn that celebrities are just like us!—to bring in the business for their rom-coms or other middlebrow movies.

But for movies with higher aspirations, acting is what brings in the viewers. Acting, regardless of gender. And this was the kind of performing artist that Gwyneth used to be—a real actor whose acting, not culinary, skills brought viewers to the theater. But with her middlebrow turn in Country Strong, maybe that’s not the type of actress that she is allowed to be anymore.

To answer the second question, my guess is no, Gwyneth didn’t want to write this book.  Because she used to be a real actress in The Royal Tenenbaums and Shakespeare in Love.  This cookbook is so sad—and a little bit creepy—because it seems to mark her unwilling transition into rom-coms.   

Debutante balls are the way to let everybody know your 18-year-old is ready for marriage

Debutante balls are old-fashioned.  The word originated in France—it means “female beginner,” but refers to an old aristocratic tradition of presenting one’s daughter as ready for marriage.  She wears a white dress and long white gloves and “comes out” in society as being of suitable marriageable age.

Get the “aristocratic” part? This was in the time of mint juleps and Southern belles, people.  It’s time to give it up.

But today, debutante balls are more common than ever.