What Happened to 1990s Bumbling Masculinity?

In showing my students the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer yesterday, we discussed gender performance and 3rd Wave power dynamics. They got this with ease. But when it came to discussing masculinity, they struggled. I deliberately waited to introduce them to Angel, such a clear Byronic broody bad boy stereotype in this episode that it’s too easy to pick apart. They did that in two seconds at the end of class. No, it was Xander’s affable bumbling, which they read as totally emasculating that they didn’t seem to understand as an acceptable male type from the 90s. Xander isn’t a geek or nerd; he needs Willow’s intellectual help constantly. Indeed, out of the crew, he’s the one that doesn’t go to college. Admittedly, some of them were born the year Buffy first aired, but this male type, with variation, was an absolute mainstay of 1990s rom coms. Tom Hank’s Sam in Sleepless in Seattle or pretty much every film of note Hugh Grant has made features this emotive, speaking male type. To me, however, it never reads as emasculated. It always reads as a type to offset the Byronic hero or more clearly toxic male villains who serve as foils for the hero we’re meant to champion. The brilliancy of Colin Firth’s various Darcy incarnations is his ability to meld two male types: stoic masculinity with the bumbling, emotive hero. His Darcy’s various epiphanies always lead there. Admittedly, I watch few rom coms today. They universally feature an obnoxious version of bad boy figure, but my students’ yesterday got me thinking. They seem to think men are policed now for deviating from hyper masculine forms, which may be the case. So entrenched is this idea that they read it backwards through literature. I have to remind them that men of feeling were prominently featured in nineteenth century literature. I’m wondering what happened to the man of feeling, the 90s version, and then I remember our introduction to Xander. Bumbling, spew words, but his first words to Buffy are the aggressive “Can I have you?” Perhaps this figure was a male ideal only possible in Nora Ephron’s imagination.


Song of the Day: Cranberries, “Linger”

The Cranberries were one of several female fronted dreamy alt rock 1990s bands I listened to on repeat back in high school, especially the first album. It’s weird thinking that Dolores O’Riordan, who died today, was only 6 years older than me when she came to fame.

On female friendship

I’ve been reading Jill Filipovic’s The H spot: the Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, which explores the conundrum at the heart of our society’s social contract: the pursuit of happiness written into our founding documents was for men and enabled by the invisible labors of women and people of color. It’s an interesting read, pulling together history, analysis of our current self help culture, third to fourth wave feminism, and personal reflection. I’m not far in, but I’ve just finished the section on female friendship, which discusses how key such friendships have been for women, both for the women’s movements and for personal growth and development.

I’ve been privileged to spend this break celebrating female friendships, from spending time talking with April and Natalie working on The Periodical Poetry Index to hanging with my cousin, having a knitting night, wedding celebration and catching up with Jill and Cassie who saw me through grad school and beyond, and hanging with Beth and Jana yesterday, who I’ve been friends with for 21+years since my first semester of undergrad. It’s been so nice having a break feeling loved and supported by these amazing women. And I get to return to a semester with other amazing women who are my friends, who support and watch out for me. If 2018 looks to be another year of women’s voices, I can think of no better way forward than friendships.

Ian McEwan’s Nutshell

Probably a perfect confection of a novel to read over the course of two cold days with a slight head cold. It’s an engaging conceit, exploring the meditations of an unborn child who Hamlet like, tries to reveal his mother and uncle’s plot to murder his father, and is just as ineffectual as he meditates on the nature of being. The first seventy pages are lyrical; the rest a little cliched, retreading some of McEwan’s points about how the news punctuates our lives from Saturday. Of course, in rewriting Hamlet, you’re tied to Hamlet and it’s conclusion.

Flat whites and coffee trends

We ate brunch in LA yesterday with Jason’s college roommate, wife, and dog at a place down the street from their house. Bondi Market is a quintessential Australian coffee cafe, serving açaí breakfast bowls and a mix of trendy smoothies, juices, and the flat white, among other coffee choices. Given the place, I ordered the flat white, which Jason didn’t know was Australian. I didn’t know it wasn’t an espresso shot base. Here’s all the details here. Also, I’m down with breakfast bowls. Granola and açaí are delightful.

2017 Top Five

1) I took roughly 3 weeks off in July. The spring was a long slog. I taught four separate preps, which isn’t unusual but hard. But one was a full online comp class, which was more like teaching 4.5 classes. I had essay edits in May, as well as work on a conference paper. I taught summer 1 and had a conference in June. So I told my department head towards the end of summer 1 that I was taking a week off after the summer session from all work. She looked me square in the eye and told me to take two. It was glorious. I relaxed at Jason’s and didn’t feel the need to fix anything. I slept in. I read slowly and for pleasure. I floated in Beth’s pool, which had a huge construction trailer in front of the entrance. It wasn’t under construction, but looked like it. I had the dang thing to myself all summer. I ran. I did yoga with Tim everyday. I tried to do some course planning after week two, said fuck it, and took another week to float, read, and sleep. Oh and Jason brought me coffee every morning.

2) Watching Jason be an uncle. He’s has a passel of friend-fam nephews. And he loves them fiercely. And he’s great with the kids, playing with them and helping them. But with Madison, because she’s his sister’s baby, he lights up like a lamp. He’s a generous uncle too, letting me get most of the snuggles in.

3) Two essays, one a long in the works essay on women poets in Blackwood’s using data from the Periodical Poetry Index and one on Christmas serials and Doctor Who, were finished and mostly final edits this year. Both should come out in 2018. I learned a lot of patience, particularly with the Doctor Who essay, which had to go through review to get in the special issue and then normal review. While I do a lot of work these days in Neo-Victorian studies, I’m not a Doctor Who expert, so I also did a lot of learning as well. I also learned how to advocate for my time, telling the editors when I could get the second draft back to them based on my actual in semester schedule, not just agreeing to a date in the middle of other due dates. I’m proud of both essays.

4) Running a half marathon with my brother. We knew the race route perhaps better than most runners since half of it was through Oak Cliff, so when we saw that mile 8 was up the Slyvan Hill, I hill trained a lot. Indeed, the training helped me manage the stress of the semester.  Unfortunately, Jordan’s back started bothering him around mile 7. And while neither of us were prepared for how hot it got—over 80–it was so much fun to share that experience with Jordan

5) Jill and Scott’s wedding. Jill called me in June and said they were engaged, and I think I was asked to be a bridesmaid but I’m actually not sure. I think we both just assumed. And that the wedding was going to be in Louisiana in December. They’re both high school teachers, so that made sense if they didn’t want to wait until the next year. And then the wedding was in LA because her sister was pregnant and due in January and couldn’t travel. (Actually will be induced on Tuesday, Jan 2, if the baby doesn’t decide to make an entrance before then.)

Jill and Cassie and I became friends in grad school. Grad school can make you crazy, anxious, and just plain weird. These women kept me sane. Life being life, seeing each other over the years has become more complex. Cassie and her family live in Ohio, Jill in Lafayette, and I’m still bouncing between FSM and Dallas. The last time we were all in the same place was New York in 2014. Heck, Cassie’s had another kid since then. Getting to see the kids, meet Henry, who is so freaking adorable, and see how much Lily has grown up, was a special treat. Just getting to catch up with these women filled me with joy. They all got to meet Jason, and of course approved. Watching Jill marry the man who makes her shine was tearful joy.

Honorable mentions:

1) My novel class. So I got this hairbrained idea to teach a whole section of the novel around different forms of Jane Eyre. It spanned most of the history of the novel. And it hit several different novel genres. It seemed like fun, and definitely was in the planning. But oh my goodness, was it fun to teach. The students were so bright and witty. They just lapped up the material, which meant I pushed them on the theory side a bit. I learned so much from them; listening to them teach a class period—an assignment I do frequently—helped me develop my own ideas for a BWWC abstract.

2) In designing this class, I put a novel I hadn’t read but should have on the list—Wide Sargasso Sea. I read it in Beth’s pool in one large gulp. It was divine. Moody and atmospheric.

3) working on the Periodical Poetry Index. We’ve been doing a lot of conceptual work this year, and I find every conversation intellectually stimulating. I can feel that we’re approaching some groundbreaking ideas about the forms of periodical poetry production.

4) marching in the women’s march. It happened spontaneously. I was in Dallas that weekend. Marcie, long time family friend/sister, was going. I messaged her the day before that I wanted to go too. Jason drove us and picked us up. Ironically, the march ended near the DISD admin building, the site of my first protest in 1991. It was empowering to be part of those people raising their voices in protest but also in accepting unity. It gave me hope for 2017. Hope does not disappoint us. (Or at least I cling to that.)

Christmas Daisies

I once had a boyfriend who bought me roses weekly. It was overwhelming, and a bit misplaced since, while I like roses, red ones aren’t my favorite. The orangey blush ones are. Nor are roses my favorite flower. Daisies are. Have been since I was a little kid and figured out they were the flower for my birth month. I adore them in all forms, but white ones are my favorite. Friendly and inviting, and this bouquet beckoning to me from the grocery store bins was to hard to resist on this cold, rainy day. I now also have enough chocolate to bake for my respective family gatherings, knitting/stitching projects to complete, a boyfriend on the mend from a head cold, and wassail. So my Christmas weekend is off to a cosy start.

Wellness vs. Healthyish

I’ve been reading Healthyish as of late, Bon Appetite’s healthy food blog. It’s big on the ish, mostly avoiding the gimmicks of the wellness industry. The lentil quinoa salad was a lifesaver during finals. And while I vastly overestimated the amount of time it would take to make the butternut squash pasta last night, it was delicious. (Mental note: buy precut butternut squash. The extra cost is worth saving you the half hour of butternut squash prep.) I like healthy food blogs. I even read Goop because I liked the recipes; I still make the “detox” Niçoise salad. But I had to stop reading most of them because of wellness industry creep. It seemed like everything in the modern environment was causing inflammation, and they all began peddling miracle substances. I have friends with gluten allergies and celiac. I have a nephew with a severe dairy allergy. Cooking for them is a labor of love that looks nothing like what the wellness industry is peddling. I can even make more than passable gluten and dairy free cornbread now. So, this article from Healthyish on how the wellness industry is an offshoot of the fashion industry makes a lot of sense. It’s meant to be weirdly elite, kind of make you feel bad so you keep coming back, and be out of the budget of most people. Key point made by Rachelle Robinett, the writer:

I see how wellness has become another way to display wealth, and commodifying health is more dangerous than fetishizing clothes. I see how it thrives on inventing new ailments, creating social pressure to cure them, and selling snake oil for how to do it. I see how, by embracing the idea that well-being must be bought, we’re becoming more and more distant from ourselves—our bodies, our minds, and our health.

The cure is the three basics: vegetables, sleep, exercise.

Silence Breakers

Heartening and heartbreaking that the women and men who have spoken out this year about sexual harassment are Times person of the year for 2017.

In the opening rationale/editorial, Time editor Edward Felsenthal lays out an argument for why the individual acts of courage and voicing have manifested in an influential movement. The article that follows is a powerful examination of the cultural moment. It’s not in-depth analysis. It glances over Anita Hill and the reckoning with the politics of the 1990s that needs to happen. It spotlights a wide range of people, acknowledging that women of color, immigrants, service industry workers, and members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to be victims of harassment.

Felsenthal also acknowledges that

The roots of TIME’s annual franchise—singling out the person or persons who most influenced the events of the year—lie in the so-called great man theory of history, a phrasing that sounds particularly anachronistic at this moment. But the idea that influential, inspirational individuals shape the world could not be more apt this year.

It explains why our current president so badly wants to have this honor. He’s desperate to be remembered as a great. Indeed, he was number 2 on the short list, a juxtaposition that’s jarring if apt. After all, his vulgar language about women being objects for his gratification sparked the Women’s March. The Silence Breakers are an apt choice for a year which began with millions of women marching across the country and is hopefully ending with what will be a nationwide reckoning about the abuses of power and sexual assault.