THE PLANK JUNE 11, 2008
One of the unfortunate side effects
of being female is the constant marketing of products as specifically “for women.”
It’s not just deodorant and cheap pink razors. There are books, and then there
are books for women.
What's with the "pink ghetto," she asks? Men get
to stand astride Yachts and Desks and Tall Buildings
or McMansions on their book covers, while women authors are, on the margins at least,
soft-lit and knitting. Crispin finds the Seal Press, an imprint devoted to
publishing "Groundbreaking Books For Women, By Women," to be a
damning example of the trend. Indeed, one could thumb through their catalogue
and depart thinking women need reams of general,
let alone gender-specific help.
A large percentage of the books Seal publishes are
how-to guides. How to run the marathon, as a woman. How to grieve, as a woman.
How to save money, as a woman. How to be a creative spirit, as a woman. How to
find balance, as a woman. How to choose which books to read, as a woman. How to
find “your true self,” as a woman. How to buy a house, as a woman. How to
masturbate, as a woman. OK, actually, that last one is fine.
Of course, the world looks differently when you're a woman.
And given that yesterday's York Times
brought us--on A1!--the breaking news
that women, too, have social and professional orbits that might require fancy
"smartphones," a treatment of how much "help" women are
presumed to need seems particularly timely. But alack--Seal books
read like more self-involved and
less charming versions of Elizabeth Gilbert. In the anthology We Don’t Need
Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists, L.A.
Mitchell’s contribution is an essay called “The Healing Vagina: How Revealing
My Body Rescued Me.” She writes, “I have always been amazingly happy when I’ve
felt the softness of my cervix, when I’ve experienced how delicate and hidden
it is.” This is worse than navel gazing; it’s cervix gazing.
That last line is sort of a cheap shot. But if it's typical,
Seal's output does seem deeply dissonant with my own feminism. Which stems from
issues of class and region and the historical inaccessibility--if not conscious
rejection--of such introspective damselhood. I've always thought woman as
butter-churning, baby-bearing, multi-tasking smart chick was the salient feature of gendered
societies. We'll suck the pi'son out of your arm and then bake a pie--three
cheers for womanly competence! Maybe this is part of a superheroine
complex--but when tastemakers conceive of women not as natural problem solvers,
but as beings who consistently require life in translation, I think we're
heading down the wrong path. I'd rather take the insult alongside an "X
for Dummies" book.