Political Animal

Blog

September 22, 2012 10:03 AM Recommended reading

By Kathleen Geier

Here are some articles and blog posts that are making their way across the internets that I enjoyed, and that you may enjoy as well:

— Naomi Wolf’s recently published biography of her vagina sounds perfectly awful, but it does have the virtue of having inspired some of the sharpest, funniest, and most delightful book reviews I’ve read in many a moon. There are far too many such reviews out there for me to link to them all, so I will single out two for special praise. First, at Time magazine’s website, the fine health writer Maia Szalavitz patiently debunks Wolf’s embarrassing pseudoscientific drivel, and elegantly summarizes what the most up-to-date, fact-based research has to say about the real science of men, women, and sex.

Second, in an impassioned piece over at the New Statesman, British feminist Laurie Penny makes a compelling case that Naomi Wolf’s “celebrity faux feminism” represents everything that’s wrong with a certain kind of “feminist” writing: the way it tends “to provoke without challenging, to create spectacle without creating solutions to the real and pressing problems facing three billion women and girls across the world because of their gender.”

— More feminist fun: the New Yorker humor writer Jenny Allen takes some satirical pokes at helicopter parenting and the cult of true motherhood.

— Also in the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell has written a chilling piece about the sociopathy of pedophiles. Using Jerry Sandusky as a case study, Gladwell describes the ruthless and infernally clever ways pedophiles work at being “likeable,” and the calculated way they exploit human beings’ propensity to trust and to give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s a powerful piece, although Scott Lemieux’s point that Gladwell is too easy on Joe Paterno and Sandusky’s other enablers is well-taken.

— Over at Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell makes the case for Stephen King as “an important left-wing public intellectual,” and damn if he doesn’t (mostly) convince me.

— And speaking of matters literary, in the London Review of Books one of my favorite writers, Terry Castle, reviews a fascinating-sounding new book about three early-to-mid-20th century lesbian pioneers: British fashionista Madge Garland, American heiress and intellectual Esther Murphy, and Cuban-American screenwriter Mercedes de Acosta, who had one of the all-time great love lifes (her paramours included Dietrich and Garbo). The opening vignette of Castle’s piece is priceless, and it gets better from there. Here’s a taste:

For same-sex desire, she [author Lisa Cohen] implies, has as much to do with introspection as it does with carnality, and in the ‘inopportune ardour’ of her subjects she recognises the potential for a certain radical mental freedom. It makes sense: to embrace one’s sapphic feelings - to come out to oneself - is necessarily to rethink the world. For not only is one made at once to confront one’s apparently permanent alienation from the ‘normal’ or mainstream, one finds one has to adjudicate, in the most piercing and personal way, on a raft of ethical, religious and scientific questions. Are one’s desires felonious or unnatural, as most traditional belief systems (distressingly) continue to insist? Or are they something rather more benign - simply a ‘variant’ expression of human sexuality? If the latter is the case, couldn’t one view same-sex passion, in turn, as a perhaps useful evolutionary adaptation? As an age-old demographic reality, possibly hardwired into the souls of some, that actually enriches and diversifies human civilisation? Such questions are unavoidable and pressing; for no matter how timid and law-abiding one is by nature, at the moment of self-recognition one suddenly finds oneself conspicuously in the wrong in the eyes of much of the world - caught out in a posture of stark and shocking defiance. By merely existing, it seems, one does fairly spectacular damage to entrenched collective presumptions about sexuality and society.
Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

Comments

  • ceenik on September 22, 2012 4:14 PM:

    Thanks for the reading suggestions. I especially liked Laura Penny on Wolf and feminism--excellent!

  • Michael Robinson on September 23, 2012 3:57 AM:

    Interesting juxtaposition of Gladwell's pedophilia piece with Castle's review.

    For, if we're intellectually honest about it, the argument presented in the Castle passage you've extracted applies equally well to the former case as the latter.

    In fact, you'll find book-length treatments stacked at your local NAMBLA table.

  • erectz on November 19, 2012 7:20 AM:

    Useful information shared..Iam very happy to read this article..thanks for giving us nice info.Fantastic walk-through. I appreciate this post.

    Regards:
    erectz