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John Steinbeck
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Ellen J. Prager
Cunt: A Declaration of Independence - Inga Muscio, Betty Dodson After hearing so many wonderful things about this book, reading the blurb on the back, and being of the mindset that I am (fiercely pro-equality and freedom and safety for all people, anti-patriarchy, vehemently anti-racism/rape/imperialism/domination/classism, opposed strict to gender roles and stupid gender-and-sex-based ideas), I expected to like this book. I was kind of surprised that I did not.

In the spirit of one of the better ideas in Cunt, I will tell you what of myself I saw in this book/author to explain why I had the response that I did:
As you can probably see from the description of my mindset I outlined in the first paragraph, I care DEEPLY about "women's" issues (and of course, because everyone was born of woman and everyone knows a woman and everyone's life has been shaped by women, "women's" issues are every person's issues). I also have a lot of the same thoughts as Inga--we agree on many things. My boyfriend can testify how I am forever complaining about the same topics as Inga does. I admit that I would also like a platform to discuss these types of issues.
So I suppose this is where Inga & I diverge: presentation and attitude. The content of this book would make a decent blog; any old sentence in this book would be a starting point for a worthwhile conversation with just about anybody. However, it doesn't make a good book. The writing style is sloppy, glib, imprecise; I found myself feeling alienated and somewhat angry. These issues are too important to be sloppy about.

Inga pretty much says whatever she wants to without backing up anything. As such, some of what she says is woefully easy to shoot holes through. As I mentioned in one of my status updates, within the span of four pages, she goes from saying "the man" told her that menstrual cramps are in women's head, but of course they're not actually psychosomatic, but then she found out years later that actually they are, for her at least. Ummm...
Another example: on page 107, she says "This same pattern is found in the scant funding for both breast cancer research and the risk of female-to-female transmission of the HIV virus, versus the gazillions of dollars poured into research for prostate cancer and the risk of male-to-male transmission of the HIV virus." She doesn't cite a source. I looked it up for myself, and here are the stats on the way that the National Cancer Institute spends its funding (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/06/cancer-funding-does-it-add-up/): breast cancer gets more funding per case AND per death than prostate cancer; in fact breast cancer was, in 2006, the most heavily funded cancer across the board, even though it is not nearly the most deadly (which would be lung cancer) OR the most prevalent (which would be prostate cancer). So that claim was false (at least according to the source I found). And because Inga doesn't often cite her sources, I'm sure many people who even marginally disagree with her viewpoints when reading this would assume many other of her claims are similarly false. That pains me, because I know that most of the underlying framework she's working from (basically that women are oppressed) is, actually, VERY TRUE. Her laziness and sloppyness and heavy-handedness work against her and her point--and also against people like me, who care enough about this stuff to cite sources and be factual when talking about something of such hugely critical importance as the rights, well being, and quality of life of marginalized people.

It is also, for my tastes, a little too narrow in its focus on biological women--and not only biological women, but biological women with straightforward menstrual cycles. Here's an example of what I mean pulled from page 23: "All women throughout time have had the opportunity to see the moon. From Africa and Asia to the Americas and Europe, plenty of these ladies started noticing that the moon grows, recedes, and grows again, over and over every twenty-eight days. Those not detached from their menstrual cycle couldn't help but trip out on how their own blood rhythm also occurred over the span of approximately twenty-eight days."
Yes...how true...for ALL WOMEN. EVERYWHERE. AT ALL TIMES. Except me, and I'm sure, millions of others. I resent the idea that because I haven't "tripped out" on this "blood rhythm," that I am detached from my own body and from other women. I happen to be highly "irregular," and ~even I~, Inga says, can see the ABSOLUTE TRUTH of the moon in my uterus's life if I only keep track for "up to 6 months." L O L. Yeah. Okay. In any given six month span, I may have a period once, twice, and possibly three times (though that's pretty unlikely). It has been like this my whole life, and though I have kept track for over three years...no pattern emerged. On the same page (23), Inga goes on to say "This is how the moon links one up with a form of history none of the textbooks can possibly touch upon: a psychic history with all the women who've ever bled on this planet." So according to Inga, since my uterus seems to firmly want to do its own thing, I have no history or connection with other women on this planet. This might bother me, except that I think the sun, moon, stars, Earth, and my very own body are a kind of psychic history with every THING on this planet. The moon and sun watched over the dinosaurs, so I feel connected to them; the minerals in my body come from rocks and dirt, so I feel connected to them; the DNA in my body was formulated billions of years ago, so I undeniably DO share a psychic physical historical life-affirming connection with every bacteria, insect, furry mammal, giant bird, tree, shark, and yes, every woman, that has ever lived on this blessed planet. Who would choose to trip out on being linked up by pyschic history to just half the human population, when you can choose to trip out on the connection with not only the entire human population but also the squids and marmosets and lichen? The whole ~women who bleeeed~ thing is a little too exclusive for my tastes. At this point I almost put the book down. I kept reading, and on page 75 she was at it again: "Once you understand your personal rhythm, you intuitively connect yourself with all the people who share a similar rhythm. These people are womankind." Since I'm nowhere NEAR a 28-day-cycle, though, I guess I don't really share a "similar" rhythm with too much of womankind. What about the rest of the human population? They also have their own hormonal rhythms. I'm much more comfortable using the circadian rhythm for the yardstick to which I intuitively connect to the world with. Why? Because we all have a circadian rhythm, people to hamsters on down to individual, single cells.

­­­She is also misinformed about how emergency contraception works; she says the the morning after pill "merges" birth control with abortion. Inga, you just don't know what you're talking about. EC works mainly by delaying ovulation, which means that no eggs get fertilized. I've known that since I was in high school, so I'm not sure what her excuse is, besides being so leery of ideas spawned by "men" that she won't even bother herself to read about them.

On page 66, she dismisses all IUDs as basically evil when she talks about the Dalkon Shield, an IUD that caused some problems 40 years ago. She says that if ~women~ ran the birth control industry, such a thing would never have happened. Apparently women are immune to making mistakes. Don't get me wrong, that Dalkon Shield stuff is scary. But it's not the whole story of IUDs ever. She eschews IUDs because men made them and one brand was involved in the deaths of 17 women. Meanwhile she says that giving car rides to women to keep them safe. Men also made cars. Guess how many women have died because of cars? A hell of a lot more than 17. In fact, around 50 women die in cars EVERY SINGLE DAY of the year in America alone. They're unsafe and male made. But hey ladies, it's totally cool to put your female friends in them to keep them off the streets. (For the record, I advocate giving womenfriends rides when their alternative is to walk a long way in the middle of the night--same for men--however I also support the use of IUDs for people who are interested in them and aware of their risks.)

Inga also glorifies this time in "the past" when women were ~oh so revered~. But she doesn't say when or where this was going down. She just says that she is "seethingly jealous of those olden time people." If she hopped in a time machine to go whenever she thought this might be, she would probably be disappointed when she got there. She mentions "India" in passing, and how they had sacred temples for the feminine and their sexypower was all cool with everyone. But she doesn't say when or where in "India" this was; it is painfully unclear what the hell she is talking about. I was wondering if she was referring to the devadasi system. Though occasionally and/or at some point(s) in history the devadasi system probably did live up to Inga's "sacred Whore" ideal, often young girls who couldn't be properly cared for were taken there and raped by temple visitors as a matter of course. The reality is often much different from the ideal. I know there are and have existed matriarchal societies, but she doesn't name a single one, which makes it kind of hard for me to take the whole "things were so much better back then" tripe seriously. It may have been and it may not have been; in either case, you are writing a book meant to inform people: cite your sources.

On page 135, she says that she's sad that her friend "is forced to identify" with slavery...but wait, Inga, on page 65, you said, "Maybe we got beaten and raped and tortured and enslaved into submission. That is the past. It's something to reckon with, but also: it's gone. Face it, forget it." Why don't you wish to impart that NUGGET OF WISDOM to your mourning friend?! Maybe because it's really not a nugget of wisdom at all, just something you wrote when you were trying to sound ~inspirational~. The truth is the present is shaped by the past. Why would forgetting past rapes/tortures/enslavements ever be a good idea? It isn't really "gone," is it, when it still lingers for your friend and lingers in our power structure and in our country's mindset? I thought "it's gone, face it, forget it" was rather insidious advice when I saw it on page 65, and by page 135-137, where Inga pontificates on the importance of learning history, the fact that Inga doesn't trot it out again shows that she at least has some idea how insensitive and erroneous that kind of statement is. Makes you wonder why she wrote it in the first place. I also found myself wondering what her editor was paid to do.

Her idea for stopping rape is to publicly humiliate rapists. She also posits that men rape women because they fear and hate them. Public humilation seems like a strategy designed to foster fear and hatred of women. I'm not saying that I don't sympathize, and it is true that rapists and predators often rely on silence. (But even when victims aren't silent, and do prosecute, rapists hardly ever get convicted and hardly ever serve time. From this I conclude that silence is not the whole story.)
What about education campaigns and highlighting the seriousness of the problem and offering support to victims and working towards justice in the court system? I guess shouting at rapists seems like more fun to Inga, though I am uncertain that it will have the desired outcome. Likewise, putting rocks in your pocket and dressing down may be one strategy to avoid getting assaulted by a predator, but it's unlikely to be effective: the clothes a victim is wearing really don't have an effect on the rapist. Ninety year old ladies in sweats have been raped. Even if wearing sweats ensures that the rapist passes over a modestly dressed person, then he will just go rape someone else who is wearing less. Great solution, Inga. NOT. This kind of thinking is akin to victim-blaming. After all, if so-and-so COULD have worn a different outfit she would have been passed over for a rape, right? I am really disappointed at this book. :(

Second to the bibliography & resource guide, the afterword is probably the best part of the book. And even then it is all over the place and seems to meander with no point. First she embraces transwomen, which is great. That is undoubtedly, for me, the high point of the whole book. Then she starts talking about the untrustworthy media and goes off into blahblahblah about President Bush. I mean, not that I disagreed with any of what she said per se, but...what was that even doing there? It seemed irrelevant.

The bibliography and resource guides really are excellent, though.

tl;dr version: This book was so far below my expectations. I thought I'd love it and I at least wanted to like it. Unfortunately it is just too problematic for me to want to recommend it to anybody. It was the least enlightening of any "women's" studies books I've ever read. However I can tell Inga's heart was in the right place; I can tell that we'd probably vote the same and agitate for the same changes. It was just a little too narrow and too sloppy.