Thursday, February 14, 2013

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

Or, alternately, Why I Have Trouble With Historical Fiction, Especially of The Upper Class/Servant Kind. Which is also why I can't deal with shows like Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs, much of Merchant Ivory's later stuff and so on. Because they're about these beautiful rich disaffected people and their beautiful rich problems and aren't they just like us? And no one is particularly likeable, and the servants, if they are more than backdrop, are usually shown to be totally loyal and devoted and wax on about how they're so kindly by the rich folk. And if they aren't loyal and devoted and waxing on, they're evil and scheming and getting their just rewards in the end for Getting Out of Their Place. Because apparently we all long for a time when everyone knew their place and it was a simpler world where people could be as sexist, racist, and elitest as they wanted without repercussions and wah political correctness doesn't let me get away with being a dirtbag anymore.
And generally if there's a romance between the upstairs and downstairs, isn't the upstairs so progressive and magnanimous and amazing for falling in love with a mere servant? And all I can think about is how the upstairs is being a total ass, not even trying to understand the bad situation they are putting the servant in, constantly putting them at risk for being kicked out, constantly in trouble for shirking their duties, which causes them to get even more duties as if they aren't overworked enough already, etc; because when the relationship goes south, as it totally will because you know upstairs isn't going to really risk getting disinherited over marrying a servant, they're totally going to screw the servant over and they'll never get a job in that field again and their reputation will be shot and thanks a lot for your momentary dabble in the lower classes but couldn't you have been a little more discreet about it or done it with someone outside if your own house?

So The House at Tyneford, about a girl from a wealthy "avant-garde" family that's totally perfect in every way and she's spoiled and cosseted and irritatingly immature for her age. It's Vienna at the start of WWII, and the family is Jewish. She's sent away to England for safety, and ends up as chambermaid for a manor in the country, despite never having done anything remotely related to housework before. She's so special and charming and loveable (despite her constantly complaining for pages and pages about how she didn't get the family's looks, and she's plain and chubby, how she's immature and inexperienced and of course she does; because how could we ever have a book where the heroine actually likes herself? That way lies in madness.) that the heir of the house falls in love with does his father. Which is awkward and kind of icky. I couldn't stand either the girl or the heir; and got about 150 pages in, and then just started skipping around and finally gave up. But apparently the heir dies in war, and she marries the father but doesn't get the house (the government takes it), which is naturally a complete tragedy. So there, now you don't have to read it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

To Boost Your Faith in Humanity

An article about an awesome group Bikers Against Child Abuse, motorcyclists that have banded together to help abused children feel safe, provide emotional support and therapy, and will stand guard at the child's school, home or court case if they feel threatened by their abuser. It's long, but so worth it. (All bikers go through a criminal background check, given workshop training over a year period on how to help the children, and the bikers are always in pairs so that no biker is ever alone with a child.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mustn't Grumble and the larger issue

I just finished a travel book called Mustn't Grumble (and it's really hard to type Mustn't, I keep wanting to add 's instead of 't) by Joe Bennett. So, standard travelogue about this guy who was originally from England, but has lived away for a few decades, and the book is his experience back in England traveling the country after 20 years away. The writing isn't bad, but there is a major problem that I have with the book; and that is that Bennett likes to describe the people he comes across. Fair enough. But every time he describes a group of young 12-13 girls, and that's far more often than you'd think; he makes some sort of gross sexual commentary. About how these girls are dressed like hookers/prostitutes, about how the boys their age look like they're 9 and the girls look like they're 16 and developed and breasty or whatever. Every damn time. Add onto this about how he comes across a high school cheerleading/gymnastic competition and he feels "arrestable" watching it. Or a time he's walking a rather deserted trail behind a woman, and he's "incapable of acting normal" or incapable of proving he's not "pervy" and it ends with the woman literally running in fear from him.
Am I saying the author's a pervert? Not really. But if you can't refrain from slut-shaming pre-teen girls, it's time to just shut up. And really, if you make a connection at all about how a pre-teen reminds you of a prostitute, that is being creepy. How about instead of shaming the girls for buying into society's message that their worth is in their looks or sexuality; you save your scorn for stores that sell crotchless underwear to 7-10 year old girls  ( Or how we slap clothes on our girls starting from infancy saying something about their looks or sexually related ("heartbreaker," "little cutie," "juicy," "flirt," "I'm too sexy for ____," or onesies with nipple tassels or the headless torso of a woman in a bikini--really they exist, "I'm with the MILF," "All My Mom Wanted was a Backrub," "I'm what happened in Vegas."). Or how stores/clothes designers carry mini versions of adult wear for girls from toddlers on up, like tight leather pants, tight miniskirts, off the shoulder shirts or high heeled shoes. Or how photographers shoot young models in sexually suggestive poses, like Dakota Fanning with a bottle of perfume shaped like a big flower between her legs, to toddlers and pre-teens posed like pinup models. Or how it then carries over to a Facebook page like "12 Year Old Sluts" where the posters would trawl through Facebook pages to post pictures pre-teen girls have posted on their own pages so that they could mock, insult and shame them for being "slutty" and "hos" and "hookers." Or how it carries over to an 11 year old getting gang-raped by 20 guys over a period of a few days, and everyone in the town, as well as reporters and lawyers say she had it coming ( there have been a few cases recently of girls this young getting gang raped in a few countries with people standing around watching it or it being recorded and put online). Or girls getting burned to death in a school fire in Saudi Arabia because they weren't allowed out of the building without their veils, despite veils being required in Islam only for those of marriageable age. Or girls/women getting shot, raped, beaten or having acid thrown on them for going unveiled, going to school, working outside the home; girls getting forced into marriage before puberty, or FGM perpetuated because women's sexuality will be out of control otherwise, etc. Or the epidemic of eating disorders, cutting, depression, suicides among teen girls because they've internalized already the ideas that they will never be enough.
And it carries over into adulthood, with sexist ads, movies and tv shows all based around how a woman looks (car ads, cleaning ads, sitcoms, gross-out/sex comedies, when a woman is there to be eye candy or merely serve as the girlfriend/wife with no personality or interests of her own, or how only 30% of speaking roles last year in film went to women). Or how 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her life. Or how a woman gets beaten by a partner every 9 seconds in the US. Or how politicians and judges saying that a woman can't get pregnant from rape (if your logic is based literally on a medieval understanding of how biology works and that understanding's been debunked for a few hundred years; and if even people in your own party are telling everyone to take a 24 hour period to think about what they're going to say before ever uttering the word rape; your party may have serious issues). Or how only 3% of reported rapists ever serve jail time. Or how the Violence Against Women Act doesn't get passed because they tried to expand it to include more services for LGBT and Native American women...and apparently we can't have that (despite Native American women getting sexually assaulted at 2.5 times the national average; and 86% of those attacks come from non-Native men, and because of jurisdiction issues on reservations, crimes committed by a non-native on a reservation can't be prosecuted by tribal police. It has to be either FBI or state police, and the odds of that happening are extremely slim. And also despite violence against LGBT women largely going unreported or un-prosecuted because of stigmas against them and fear of retaliations.). And the list goes on and on. So Mr Bennett, how about instead of slut-shaming or blaming the victim who is too young to fully understand the implications of the messages she's internalizing, you think twice. And then go after someone who deserves it.

Oh yea, the book. 1 star out of 5