Tom recently sent me an email asking me to explain why I hate contemporary literature and why I care about sexism. Not sure anyone else is interested, and confessional literature is always dicey, but since I’ve had a special request:
As far as contemporary literature goes, I’ve explained myself more or less here and here. For a while there I was trying to be a poet and reading a lot of poetry, which gave my hatred for the contemporary literary scene bite and drive. These days I pretty much just avoid it, which makes me happier, but means I don’t have quite the same impetus to write at length about it.
For the sexism; I don’t know that I am actually any more interested in, or opposed to, sexism than your average everyday liberal, Oberlin educated SNAG. My mom worked full time; my dad, as a professor, had more flexible hours, so he was more or less the primary caregiver. Both of them always made it clear that this arrangement was fine, and that sexism of any sort was wrong. I remember standing up to a couple teachers in high school when they made some cracks about girls not being as smart as guys. The other boys in class were aghast, but I was definitely thinking, “You can’t say that about my mom!” I don’t know…that’s one of the things I’ve done that I’m definitely proud of, but though I’d like to line up those data points and end up with “Noah Berlatsky: Champion of Women’s Equality!” I don’t think it would necessarily wash.
As Tom noted, I do write a fair bit about sexism and feminism. That has something to do with my liberal politics, certainly, but it also has a lot to do with my interest in…well, me. In my experience, at least, feminists tend to have the most interesting things to say about masculinity, just as black writers tend to have the most interesting things to say about race and whiteness. If you look at my two longest pieces on sexuality (here and here, they both use feminist theory to talk about masculinity — especially about masculine sexuality, and the relationship between masculinity and desire. Both are me trying to figure out why I get pleasure (of various kinds) from certain genres, and trying to figure out how that plugs into various social and political concerns. (This is true of the Wonder Woman blogging as well; I think my next essay for comixology will make that more clear.)
The above is something of a psychological explanation, and is perhaps unduly demeaning (as psychological explanations tend to be.) I could also explain my interest from a more ineffable aesthetic perspective, I guess; much of my favorite artwork and writing deals with gender and sexuality, and trying to understand it or interact with it has led me to write or think a lot about those topics.
I mean, I don’t want to disavow any political commitment. Obviously, I hope when I write about or use feminism that I’m doing something to advance the cause — perhaps by revealing some of the ways sexism works or how sexuality and sexism can be tied together or teased apart in our imaginations. But I guess I feel like women — or anyone really — would do well to mistrust men who claim to be leading the fight or to be acting out of especially altruistic motives. Sex and gender ulimately interest me because, like most people, I’m interested in sex, and, like everybody, I have a gender.
So that’s my best effort at a response. If it seems self-indulgent or tedious…well, I would encourage you all to blame Tom.