a bird and a bottle

Full Frontal…Feminism.
April 24, 2007, 10:04 am
Filed under: bean's books, feminism/s & gender

The fabulous Jessica Valenti’s first book – Full Frontal Feminism – is now available. I’ll be reviewing it on this website and for Lawyers, Guns & Money after finals are over.

In the meantime, check out Salon’s Rebecca Traister’s interview with Ms. V.


Virginity: We’ve Come A Long Way, but Yet… (Bean’s Bookshelf)

Alex Kuczynski, she of the Styles section and the book “Beauty Junkies” reviews “Virgin: the Untouched History” (pun intended, I assume) by Hanne Blank in today’s NY Times Book Review (full disclosure: as a small girl I dreamed of being a book reviewer and have a special place in my heart for book reviews. No, I was not very popular in middle school). For Ms. Blank, the author, who has in the past written extensively about erotica, a book about virginity seems a little tame.

But then, she gets to include juicy stories of how women have been abused throughout time for losing their virginity. Plums like these:

In ancient Greece, one Athenian father, upon discovering that his unmarried daughter had given it up, fed her to a starving horse. In ancient Rome, the vestal virgin priestesses were required to keep their hymens — whether annular or crescentic — intact during their 30 years of service. If they did not, they were buried alive in custom-built oubliettes.

Pretty gruesome. Blank also details the way in which virginity has been fetishized, which the reviewer, Kuczynski, rightfully ties to rituals that continue in some parts of the world today.

Virginity has also been considered a life-saving antidote. Blank gives the history of the so-called “virgin cure,” the belief that men could be cured of sexually transmitted diseases by having sex with a virgin. She links this idea to Christian legends of virgin martyrs who battle demons while protected by their own purity. In 18th-century London, one in every five capital rape cases involved children under the age of 10, and the rapists commonly cited the virgin-cure myth in their defense. It would be nice to think this notion has long since been abandoned to the gruesome past, but that is cruelly not so: it persists in southern Africa and is a major contributor to the escalating AIDS crisis.

But Blank’s approach is not one sided — she’s not pushing girls’ legs open across the USA; she also shares tales of the horror inflicted when women refused to give up their virginity.

From the review, it sounds as if the book gets to the heart of why virginity has been so central to patriarchy. Problem is, to Kuczynski, that seems like the book’s downfall:

The thrust of Blank’s book seems to be that for many eons, in patriarchal societies, women needed to prove they were virgins so that their deflowerers could be assured of paternity and thus take care of the offspring — and that, gee, that was kind of miserable and sexist. Under the Roman Empire, fathers had the right to kill their daughters if they had sex before marriage (or outside of it later), and the right to kill the offending male as well. Imagine if this were the case in America today: half of Manhattan would be dead.

Well I guess virginity, then, is a non-issue today. Oh, wait…maybe not.

Bean’s Bookshelf – The First Man-Made Man
March 18, 2007, 1:12 pm
Filed under: bean's books

As an avid reader (when law school is not sucking up all of my time), it’s odd that it’s taken me this long to discuss books I want to read in this space. That changes now. Periodically, I will post a review of a book I have read and enjoyed or of one I want to read. I hope you’ll all share your thoughts on the book, if you’ve read it, in comments.

Here’s the first installment.

SF just sent me today’s NY Times Review of The First Man-Made Man: The Story of Two Sex Changes, One Love Affair, and a Twentieth Century Medical Revolution. Despite its cliche title (“Girls Will be Boys”) the review is fine, but that’s not what really what interests me here. It’s the book itself that has grabbed my attention.

The book, by Pagan Kennedy, tells the story of the first female to male (FTM) transsexual who is on record as having undergone sex reassignment surgery. Michael Dillon’s story was one of scientific invention, but, at least per the review, it was also one of a search for identity and a familiar tale of of spurned love.

A book like this runs the risk of being objectifying or insensitive but the Times reviewer promises that Kennedy avoids those pitfalls. One other potential trap, which the reviewer does not note, is that of the story being too formulaic — from the review, I fear that the book will take an interesting life and cram it into a cliched form.

That said, I’ve only just ordered the book, so this is all conjecture. I’ve got my fingers crossed that it won’t present any teeth-gnashing moments that rely more on stereotypes than on truth.

This isn’t anything formal (though if you’re looking for a more formal, but rocking, blog book club, Amanda has started one over at Pandagon), but I hope some of you will read along with me so we can discuss in comments.