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Archive for the 'Women’s Studies' Category

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

A Media Roundup for Tainted Witness

Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

“Now that America has elected as its president a man who denigrates women and their bodies, who thinks women who exercise their reproductive rights should be “punished” and who spouts xenophobic and racist views, Gilmore’s insights are more pressing than ever. Tainted Witness is an important and timely book. If ever we needed evidence that the work of feminism is not yet done, this is it.” — Laura Frost

This week, we are featuring two exciting new books from our Gender and Culture Series: Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins, by Susan Fraiman, and Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives, by Leigh Gilmore. Today, we have collected links and short excerpts from some of the great media attention Tainted Witness has received.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of both books!

In The Washington Post, Jill Filipovic believes that Tainted Witness “is a timely and necessary defense of the women whose voices are so often drowned out or shouted down”:

“Tainted Witness” arrives at the right time, at the front end of a rapidly building anti-feminist backlash. The ease with which so many Americans disregard or disbelieve women’s testimony was on clear display in November, when millions voted for Trump despite the accusations against him and his own claim, caught on video, that he had sexually assaulted women. This book provides a crucial feminist critique of the impossible and ever-shifting standards to which women who offer life testimony are held, along with guidance on how to navigate a path forward….

These are crucial observations and excellent rebuttals to the faux legalism that so often dominates the public discourse around high-profile sexual assault cases. We are entering an era when malevolent sexism and entrenched mistrust in women are not only tacitly approved but actively modeled by the man in the Oval Office, and when many of our most valued institutions and even the very concept of truth are under fire. Not in recent memory have the ideas Gilmore elucidates been so necessary, which is why I wish her work was more accessible to a wider audience. Still, this is a sharp work of feminist scholarship, unflinching in its insistence that women’s testimony about our own lives is a potent and often threatening force undercut by those who accurately assess its power. In a country soon to be led by a very loud man who ran a campaign of aggrieved masculinity, “Tainted Witness” is a timely and necessary defense of the women whose voices are so often drowned out or shouted down.

In the Times Higher Education, Laura Frost gave an excellent close look at Tainted Witness, which was named the THE Book of the Week:

The tautological observation that women are thought to be untrustworthy because they are women invites speculation about its genesis. While a definitive answer lies outside the scope of Tainted Witness, Gilmore is especially astute when she shows how “bodies and story move in a choreography of testimony”. For example: “The instant Anita Hill saw a barrage of flashbulbs erupt the first time she altered position in her seat, she knew that in photographs of her testimony, her body could be made to tell a story that would compromise her.” These and other somatic moments in Tainted Witness show how profoundly female embodiment influences the reception of women’s words. If harassment and assault are a means of denigrating women’s power, might the charge of fabrication – in the sense of deceit – conceal an anxiety about fabrication in the sense of making or creating, and perhaps the most fundamental power of reproduction?

Now that America has elected as its president a man who denigrates women and their bodies, who thinks women who exercise their reproductive rights should be “punished” and who spouts xenophobic and racist views, Gilmore’s insights are more pressing than ever. Tainted Witness is an important and timely book. If ever we needed evidence that the work of feminism is not yet done, this is it.

In the Boston Globe, Katie Tuttle quotes Gilmore on the timeliness of Tainted Witness:

“My hope in the book,” she said, “is if we can become familiar with these patterns for undermining women’s testimony, and undermining women’s credibility, then I think we can begin to anticipate where and how these attacks will take place and maybe we can try to stay a step ahead of them.”

As we face the results of an election that included examples of this dynamic (Hillary Clinton, Gilmore said, “has been a tainted witness for almost her entire career”), we stand at a moment of possible change. “On one hand, this seems like the era of welcome for women’s testimony. We seem to be hearing more stories from more places around the world from women,” she said. “But at the same time, the mechanisms for tainting women’s witness are swifter and more effective than ever.”

Finally, we look back to two articles written by Leigh Gilmore at The Conversation reflecting on two of the most apparent cases of disbelief of a woman’s testimony. First, she asked, in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, why ‘“Crooked Hillary” [was] a more compelling figure than “Fundamentally Honest Hillary”?’

I’d argue that the media’s portrayal of Clinton has less to do with her actions than with the persistent tainting of female witnesses based on gender bias. In short, my research shows that women are doubted. Women are seen as threatening stability when they show ambition and seek power. Their success threatens the association of masculine power with order.

From Eve to Clytemnestra to Lady Macbeth, powerful female figures stir up deep-seated and irrational fears of women’s proximity to power. They prompt anxieties about masculinity. These fears can be exploited and directed against particular women, as far-right Steven Bannon’s campaign against Clinton demonstrates.

These narratives and others like them align the act of doubting women with rationality and objectivity, making them feel legitimate. In other words, it is not only traditionalists who feel that women can’t be trusted with power; cultural narratives of blame make it feel right in general to doubt women.

This old story prevents other narratives from emerging. When the media recycled anecdotes that discredited Clinton instead of reframing their coverage to address the emergent themes of her historic run, they ensured that Clinton’s untrustworthiness would remain the story.

And finally, she explained what the Brock Turner sexual assault case, both Turner’s actions and, particularly, his defense team’s approach to the court case, show us about biases that work against women in state courts and in the court of public opinion:

Phrases like “he said/she said” or “no one knows what really happened” are used commonly to describe rape as a matter of interpretation. Such phrases actively harm women’s credibility in general and erode our capacity to engage with the truth of specific cases. They allow savvy defense teams to substitute bias against women for the facts of actual cases and to turn sympathy towards perpetrators.

Because these stereotypes have entered the law and permeate everyday life, doubt has become a legal weapon that can be used against any woman who testifies about rape. And in criminal cases, like rape, reasonable doubt is the standard the evidence must meet.

Yet even when the facts in a case confirm guilt, as they did in the case against Brock Turner, who was caught in the act of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, defense teams can rely on bias: that women send “mixed signals” about sex, that women say no and mean yes, that women regret sex and cry rape.

None of these cliches is grounded in evidence. Overwhelmingly, women tell the truth about sexual violence. The majority of rapes will never be prosecuted and, when they are prosecuted, the majority of rapists will not be convicted.

Why, then, are the stereotypes that women “cry rape” so durable? When the crime is rape, why are women doubted?

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Extreme Domesticity

Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

“I use the term “extreme” to jar us out of the common assumption that domestic spaces are always stable, banal, and conventional—invested in traditional family values and complacently bourgeois. The goal of my book is to trouble our stereotype of domestic life by exploring versions of home at odds with the normative ideal. I do so by looking at the non-conforming households of gender rebels, the marginal households of those dealing with dislocation and economic insecurity.” — Susan Fraiman

This week, we are featuring two exciting new books from our Gender and Culture Series: Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins, by Susan Fraiman, and Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives, by Leigh Gilmore. Today, Susan Fraiman answers questions about what exactly she means by “extreme domesticity,” the importance of acknowledging the labor and skill of domestic labor while avoiding romanticizing the concept, and how she uses literature to examine conceptions of domesticity.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of both books!

Question: I’m curious about your title. What do you mean by “extreme domesticity”? Are you talking about a return to pre-technological, labor-intensive homemaking—as in making our own clothes, growing our own food?

Susan Fraiman: Definitely not. In fact, I would distance myself from what is sometimes called the “new domesticity”: a zealous return to artisanal housewifery, extreme crafty-ness, often understood in counter-cultural or even feminist terms. What I do have in common with this impulse is my appreciation for the labor, skill, and potential for creativity involved in keeping house, whether or not you take a DIY approach. At the same time, I would never want simply to romanticize domestic labor or lose sight of the way women have historically been oppressed by unpaid work in their own homes or low-paid work in someone else’s.

Q: In that case, how exactly is the domesticity of your book “extreme”?

SF: I use the term “extreme” to jar us out of the common assumption that domestic spaces are always stable, banal, and conventional—invested in traditional family values and complacently bourgeois. The goal of my book is to trouble our stereotype of domestic life by exploring versions of home at odds with the normative ideal. I do so by looking at the non-conforming households of gender rebels, the marginal households of those dealing with dislocation and economic insecurity. So “extreme” has a number of meanings for me. It refers to homemakers seen as immoderate or outlandish, whose gender/sexuality is stigmatized as dangerously eccentric. It also refers to those in extreme circumstances, whose home life is precarious as a result of poverty, violence, and/or immigrant status. I consider a wide range of domestic figures, but they’re all outsiders of some kind. A few are even literally out-of-doors.

Q: Your book spans several centuries, multiple genres, and brings together a number of unlikely suspects. Who are some of the “outsider” women and men you discuss?

SF: I should start by noting that I’m a literary and cultural critic, not a social scientist. All of my examples are drawn from texts (as opposed to ethnographic research). As such they are images of domesticity, at one remove from actual lives. They do, however, tell us a good deal about how we conceive of the domestic. In addition to reflecting our views, images also have the ability to shape them. As for which texts I discuss, many are novels: from Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (1848) to Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues (1993) and Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Blu’s Hanging (1997). I also take up Edith Wharton’s classic design guide, The Decoration of Houses (1897), as well as depictions of Martha Stewart, that delightfully bad girl of good housekeeping. A last chapter draws on memoirs and participant-observer accounts of homelessness.

Q: Can you say more about the last chapter? I know you mentioned literal outsiders, but aren’t homeless women and men defined as such because they’re lacking in domesticity? If they have no homes, how do they count as domestic subjects?

SF: I would put it a bit differently. If you have no reliable shelter, your domesticity is broken up and embattled, but it doesn’t cease to exist. You still need to eat something, sleep somewhere, store your stuff, struggle to achieve a bit of personal safety, privacy, and coziness. If anything, when you can’t take “home” for granted, your domestic efforts are that much more urgent, ongoing, and visible. The figures discussed in this chapter include a mother in a welfare hotel, a guy camping out with his dog, a woman and her shopping cart, along with several robust subcultures of “homeless” people. The latter provide examples of collaboration as well as violence, political activism as well as poor conditions, and the chapter as a whole offers many examples of domestic agency as well as difficulty. If homelessness puts enormous pressure on domestic needs and routines, it also serves to highlight the aspects of everyday life shared across the board, whether or not we are securely housed.

Q: I have one last question. You describe this as a feminist project, but you’ve already noted the historical confinement of women in domestic spaces, restricting them to the drudgery of domestic labor. In what sense is your largely “appreciative” approach to domesticity a feminist intervention?

SF: As I say, my goal is not to romanticize housekeeping. It’s also true that the ideology of proper domesticity generally serves to enforce norms of gender, class, sexuality, and race. That said, it’s too often the case that domestic figures, practices, concerns, and spaces are the objects of condescension and blanket dismissal. Because women continue to be primarily responsible for household labor, everything associated with houses and housekeeping is strongly feminized and consequently trivialized (and this is true even when men are involved). In other words, the bias against all aspects and forms of domestic life is strongly tied to biases against women and phenomena identified as “feminine.” By stressing the diversity of domestic arrangements, by appreciating housekeepers of all genders, and by valuing the gestures that go into making a home, I am hoping to push back against that bias.

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Introducing Extreme Domesticity

Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

“My goal in the following pages is to sever domesticity from the usual right-wing pieties and the usual left derision. I am out to kill the Angel in the House once and for all—but not by shunning houses and housekeepers altogether. My strategy instead is to decouple domestic spaces, figures, and duties from a necessary identification with conservative ‘family values.’” — Susan Fraiman

This week, we are featuring two exciting new books from our Gender and Culture Series: Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins, by Susan Fraiman, and Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives, by Leigh Gilmore. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from both the introduction and the sixth chapter of Extreme Domesticity.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of both books!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

Tainted Witness in Testimonial Networks

Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

“Women are often seen as unpersuasive witnesses for three related reasons: because they are women, because through testimony they seek to bear witness to inconvenient truths, and because they possess less symbolic and material capital than men as witnesses in courts of law.” — Leigh Gilmore

This week, we are featuring two exciting new books from our Gender and Culture Series: Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins, by Susan Fraiman, and Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives, by Leigh Gilmore. Today, to start the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Gilmore’s introduction to Tainted Witness.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of both books!

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

Extreme Domesticity and Tainted Witness

“In Extreme Domesticity, Susan Fraiman continues to perform the crucial task of challenging—in lucid, fervent prose—the “habitual, unthinking” conflations and repudiations which keep women, or the feminized, at the bottom of hierarchies of value.” — Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts

“Rarely does an academic book address its moment so precisely as Tainted Witness…. An important and timely book. If ever we needed evidence that the work of feminism is not yet done, this is it.” — Times Higher Education

This week, we are featuring two exciting new books from our Gender and Culture Series: Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins, by Susan Fraiman, and Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives, by Leigh Gilmore. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Monday, November 21st, 2016

“Party Rape” and the Celebration of Lack of Consent

Hunting Girls

The following is a guest post and supplement to her recent article in The Stone, the philosophy blog of The New York Times, by Kelly Oliver, W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University and author of many books, most recently Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape:

“Party Rape” and the Celebration of Lack of Consent
By Kelly Oliver

In the last week, three stories have appeared in The New York Times about campus rape: one about six women coming forward to report their experiences with a suspected serial rapist at the University of Wisconsin, another on Brigham Young University changing its blame-the-victim policy that made reporting rape while under the influence of alcohol an honor code violation for the victim, and the latest, an article on changing policies on campuses regarding alcohol in an attempt to stem growing problems connected with campus parties, including sexual assault. These are small steps forward in what has become an epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. As the details of these cases make clear, the problem of campus rape involves a toxic combination of lack of reporting on the part of victims, the prevalence of rape myths that continue to blame victims, and the party culture on campus that spawns sexual assault even if it doesn’t cause it.

While rape is not new, the celebration of lack of consent at the heart of party rape is new. Sure, some men and boys have always “taken advantage” of women and girls using drugs and alcohol. But never before have we seen the public and open valorization of sexual assault and rape that we are seeing now, especially on college campuses. For example, a few years ago, Yale fraternity brothers marched around the freshman dorms chanting “No means yes, yes means anal.” Just this Fall, there were similar chants and banners welcoming freshman at Ohio State University, Western Ontario University, and Old Dominion. And, last year a fraternity at Texas Tech was suspended for flying a banner that read “No Means Yes.” Another frat was suspended at Georgia Tech for distributing an email with the subject line “Luring your rapebait,” which ended, “I want to see everyone succeed at the next couple parties.” And, in 2014 at Williams and Mary, fraternity members sent around an email message, that included the phrase: “never mind the extremities that surround it, the 99% of horrendously illogical bullshit that makes up the modern woman, consider only the 1%, the snatch.” Then there was the chant used at St. Mary’s University in Halifax to welcome new students: “SMU boys, we like them young. Y is for your sister, O is for oh so tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for grab that ass.” (more…)

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Dismantling Fantasies of Consent and Violence: Three Excerpts from Hunting Girls

Hunting Girls

“From fairytales to pornography, popular culture is filled with girls and women, unconscious or sleeping, “enjoying” nonconsensual sex. And until we change our fantasies, it is going to be difficult to change our realities.” — Kelly Oliver

This week, our featured book is Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape, by Kelly Oliver. Today, we have a few excerpts for you, all of which testify to Kelly Oliver’s gift for drawing connections between literature, film, popular culture, and rape culture. In the first excerpt, Oliver traces a distressing (and frighteningly current) male fantasy back to a fourteenth-century Catalan tale. In the second excerpt, Oliver considers the fraught relationship between the law and consent, exposing the dangers of focusing on one moment of affirmative consent in what is, in fact, an ongoing negotiation between sexual subjects. Finally, in the third excerpt, Oliver examines certain representations in recent literature and film of girls who “give as good as they get,” and shows how these representations send mixed messages–are our Katniss Everdeens and Tris Priors feminist revenge fantasies, or do their actions on screen normalize and valorize violence toward women?

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Hunting Girls!

Excerpt 1

Excerpt 2

Excerpt 3

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Happy International Women’s Day!

Happy International Women’s Day!* In celebration of women, we’ve listed a few feminist titles that might interest you, reader. This short selection highlights a few gender studies classics, biographies, and a book about Indian surrogate mothers.

Please use the online code IWD2016 for 30% off Columbia University Press books this week!


Gender and the Politics of History (Revised edition)
By Joan Wallach Scott

A classic first published in the Eighties. “Scott, a renowned feminist historian, critiques women’s history and gender inequality. Exploring topics ranging from language and gender to the politics of work and family, Gender and the Politics of History is a crucial interrogation of the uses of gender as a tool for cultural and historical analysis.”


Emperor Wu Zhao and Her Pantheon of Devis, Divinities, and Dynastic Mothers

By N. Harry Rothschild

Emperor Wu Zhao, better known as Empress Wu, “is the only woman to have ruled China as emperor over the course of its 5,000-year history. How did she—in a predominantly patriarchal and androcentric society—ascend the dragon throne?” She was first the emperor’s concubine, and after he died, she rose to power. This book shows how Empress Wu used religion to cement her political power. The backlash she faced during her reign remains strikingly similar to contemporary criticism of powerful women for being “too promiscuous” or “unfeminine.” Despite the specialized topic, Rothschild writes an entertaining history of a fascinating figure.


Sexual Politics
By Kate Millett

A sensation upon its publication in 1970, Sexual Politics documents the subjugation of women in great literature and art. Kate Millett builds a damning profile of literature’s patriarchal myths and their extension into psychology, philosophy, and politics. This new edition features Catharine A. MacKinnon and Rebecca Mead on the importance of Millett’s work to challenging the complacency currently sidelining feminism. Read the afterword by Rebecca Mead here.


In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun
By Hiratsuka Raicho
Translated by Teruko Craig

Raicho Hiratsuka (1886-1971) was the most influential figure in Japan’s early women’s movement. In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun is Raicho Hiratsuka’s autobiography, recounting her rebellion against the strict social codes of the time. Hiratsuka came from an upper-middle class Tokyo family, and her restless quest for truth led to intensive Zen training at Japan Women’s College. After graduation, she gained brief notoriety for her affair with a married writer but quickly established herself as a brilliant and articulate leader of feminist causes. This richly detailed memoir presents a woman who was at once idealistic and elitist, fearless and vain, and a perceptive observer of society.


Wombs in Labor
By Amrita Pande

In India, surrogacy is estimated now to be a $445-million-a-year business. Western couples, hoping to have a kid of their own, largely ignorant of the realities of Indian surrogacy, fund the industry. The reality of commercial surrogacy is grim. Pregnant women share crowded homes, lying in rows for medical exams. Amrita Pande visits clinics, lives in surrogacy hostels, and speaks with surrogates, their families, clients, doctors, brokers, and hostel matrons to capture the full mechanics of this burgeoning business and the experiences of the laborers within it. Pande’s book sensitively explores this complex phenomenon and envisions an international model of fair-trade surrogacy.

*In the midst of discussing this blogpost with colleagues, I learned from our Russian Library editor and sales and marketing assistant that this holiday is originally a communist one. Happy International Women’s Day nonetheless.

Friday, February 26th, 2016

Images from “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”

How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?

We conclude our week-long feature on “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs,” by Tahneer Oksman by sharing some of the extraordinary images from her book:

Aline Kominsky Crumb
Aline Kominsky Crumb, top of title panel from “Nose Job,” 1989

Lauren Weinstein
Lauren Weinstein, “The Best We Can Hope For,” 2008

Aline Kominsky Crumb
Aline Kominsky Crumb, untitled cartoon. In Need More Love

Vanessa Davis
Vanessa Davis, full-page color drawing. In Make Me a Woman

(more…)

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Tahneer Oksman on Writing a Jewish Book

“Why did I write a Jewish book? Because I was trying to reclaim my Jewish self, however unfamiliar its now ragged shape.”—Tahneer Oksman, author of “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”

When Tahneer Oksman, author of “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs, first began as PhD. student in literature, focusing on Jewish women’s comics was not on the horizon As she explains in a recent essay in Lilith, while women’s literature was of great interest to her, she had decided to put her Jewish upbringing behind her:

Somewhere between my upbringing in a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school in the Bronx, and the years of slowly replacing that orthodoxy with new modes of belief and practice — feminism, writing, literature and, yes, yoga — I decided that my Jewish history would never figure, could never figure, in my life as it — as I — had been remade. It would certainly never become a centerpiece.

However, as she pursued her studies, she found herself drawn to the lives of such Jewish writers as Anzia Yezierska, Sara Smolinsky, and Grace Paley. This shift to concentrating Jewish women writers was not necessarily the best career move. Oksman explains:

Writing about a Jewish topic also meant transforming myself into the very worst thing you could become as a graduate student: unmarketable. I was now too Jewish for English Literature programs, and I would never be Jewish enough for jobs in Jewish programs. This left me, as usual, between worlds; if you write your first book on a Jewish topic, after all, you’ve pigeonholed yourself: you’re a Jewish writer. Haven’t you seen how so many of those popular “canonical” Jewish writers (and actors, and painters, and critics) reject that title? Write about something else; take the word Jewish out of your title, for heaven’s sake!

(more…)

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Tahneer Oksman Recommends Recent Graphic Memoirs

Turning Japanese

The following is a post by Tahneer Oksman, author of “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs

In “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?” I examine the complex and exciting ways identity can be mapped out and pictured on the comics page. I chose to focus on autobiographical Jewish women cartoonists in particular because I found their ambivalence about Jewish identity—their desire to often simultaneously identify as insiders and outsiders—a captivating example of how comics can help visualize incongruity, paradox, and conflict alongside connection, acceptance, and recognition.

One of the (happy) frustrations I encountered in writing this book was that I kept stumbling across powerful works of graphic memoir that didn’t necessarily fit into the set of themes I was grappling with in the book. In other words, they weren’t particularly Jewish. Here I offer a brief glance at four works, three recently published and one forthcoming, that caught my attention and merit a closer look.

Jennifer’s Journal: The Life of a Suburban Girl, Volume 1
Jennifer Cruté
(Rosarium Publishing, 2015)
From its bubbly and enticing cover, which pictures a young girl playing with dolls in her room as a devil smoking a cigarette grins in the corner, to its sincere depictions of a serious artist focused on painting and creating, Jennifer Cruté’s Jennifer’s Journals is often startling in its unexpected juxtapositions. The book is partly the story of becoming an adult and artist and partly a family history, with amusingly jarring interludes featuring moments in the childhood of the author/artist’s friends. Cruté offers her readers a motley of such unusual narrative techniques, including punch lines, an adult translator who occasionally appears, and sometimes the simple but forceful confusion of a sequence of painful memories offered without explanation. Her characters are cartoonish, bubbly; but that doesn’t lessen the sting when, for example, in a sequence recalling distant family history (“Georgia, circa 1915″), her great-grandfather matter-of-factly tells her grandma Faye, “Aww, don’t worry, baby. Dead people can’t lynch us.” If anything, the book’s style catches its readers off-guard, offering an unpredictable, open-ended self portrait of a life still unfolding.

Turning Japanese: A Graphic Memoir
MariNaomi
(2d Cloud, forthcoming in spring 2016)
I’ve long been a fan of MariNaomi’s autobiographical comics, from her early collection Kiss & Tell, which documents a range of romantic (mis)adventures, to Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories, an episodic compilation on family, work, and love. In Turning Japanese, MariNaomi brings her understated, often deadpan narrative voice to life with spare, fluid lines. On the surface, the book traces two seemingly unrelated threads: a new relationship weathering the ins-and-outs of everyday life; and the search for connection with a place and culture that the protagonist, who calls herself a “mutt,” has been distanced from. Born to a Japanese mother who fled home to marry and raise a family in America, MariNaomi reveals, over the course of the narrative, how the search for a future, with or without a partner, is inevitably, if sometimes vaguely, tied to one’s personal history, one’s past. Like the texts that I write about in How Come Boys?, this book reflects the complicated nature of identification and disidentification, of the ways we can paradoxically come to find who we are through our rejections and rebellions.

(more…)

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Book Giveaway! We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays, by Shirley Hazzard

We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think

“In these essays there is a lovely sense of witnessing a brilliant and judicious mind at work. Shirley Hazard has a way of finding the right phrase, and capturing a tone and a rhythm, that offer a sort of sensuous pleasure to the reader. She cares passionately about writing, the life of the mind but also the public realm. As in her novels, her essays display the quality of her sympathy, her ability to make distinctions as well as connections, and her acute analysis. She is an inspiring presence in our literary life, and having these essays is both a gift and a revelation.” — Colm Tóibín

This week, our featured book is We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays, by Shirley Hazzard, edited with an introduction by Brigitta Olubas. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address.

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

WITMonth 2015: Author/Translator/Author

WITMonth Posts'

In honor of August as Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), we are featuring two very different posts by translators Howard Goldblatt and Esther Allen on women in translation. According to Meytal Radzinski at Bibliobio, only 30% of works translated into English are written by women. WIT Month is simply one effort part of a larger, concerted movement to address sexism in publishing.

Today’s article comes from Howard Goldblatt, the co-translator (with his wife, Sylvia Li Chun Lin) of Li Ang’s The Lost Garden: A Novel, forthcoming in November 2015. Goldblatt’s piece explains the meticulous translation and writing process he undertook to complete Chinese novelist Xiao Hong’s novel Ma Bo-le. He presents a glimpse into the stitching and unstitching of her drafts posthumously for the final installment of her novel.

We hope you enjoy reading!

Author/Translator/Author
By Howard Goldblatt

In 1940, Xiao Hong, a novelist from Northeast China who was born in 1911, wrote a novel entitled Ma Bo-le. It was published in Hong Kong the next year, when she wrote and published serially a sequel she called “Book Two.” The final installment appeared in a magazine in November, with the note, “End of Chapter Nine. More to come.” That did not happen. Two months later, shortly after the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, she was dead of a throat infection, a botched operation, and a fragile constitution at the age of 31. She was buried in Repulse Bay. Now, more than half a century later, she is celebrated as one of China’s foremost writers of the Republican era; her childhood home, a stop on the Northeast China tour circuit, is flanked by a museum devoted to her and her work.

In the early 1980s, after a decade of writing and talking about Xiao Hong and translating much of her work, including two novels, I began a translation of Ma Bo-le, taking it slow, since I did not think a Western publishing house would be interested in an unfinished novel by an obscure Chinese writer. I cannot recall when it happened, but at some point I decided that I would write, in English, the third volume of what everyone agreed was planned as a trilogy, to complete the work. It has taken me more than twenty years to get up the nerve to fulfill that promise.

After editing a rough translation of the first two “books,” I picked up the thread of the original story, which ended as the protagonist contemplates traveling to Chongqing, the provisional capital of the Chiang Kai-shek government. As I wrote, I located the narrative in places where Xiao Hong had visited or lived—the Beipei district in Chongqing, Lock Road in Kowloon, Hong Kong—wherever possible, and included actual events and situations, such as her friendship with the three Japanese, the only true-to-life characters in the novel. For a speech Xiao Hong gave in Hong Kong to commemorate her mentor and friend, Lu Xun, who had died four years earlier, I quoted from the actual text. I even had them—author and protagonist—nearly meet on two occasions. I then translated and included snippets from essays and stories Xiao Hong wrote during that time. Beyond that, I had to follow my instincts, since Xiao Hong left no indication of how she planned to end the trilogy.

The novel is absolutely unique, not just to Xiao Hong’s oeuvre, but in the modern history of Chinese fiction, through the twentieth century and up to the present day. It has been reissued several times in Chinese and has been written about extensively. In it the eponymous character travels from Qingdao south to strike out on his own in the days prior to full-blown war with Japan. Once Shanghai is attacked, Ma Bo, whose wife and children have joined him, he follows the route his author took from one besieged city to the next, ending, as she did, in Hong Kong.

Ma Bo-le (pronounced Ma Buo-luh), a picaresque character much in the mold of self-preservationist Yossarian in Catch-22 or the slothful Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces, has few peers in the modern Chinese-language tradition. Nobelist Mo Yan’s bumbling “investigator” in The Republic of Wine and Taiwanese pedant Dong Siwen in Wang Chen-ho’s Rose, Rose, I Love You come close. Ma Bo-le anticipates them all by decades.

When first published, the novel, marked by humor, cynicism, and a number of solipsistic fictional characters, was not well received by many, who thought that only patriotic, incendiary anti-Japanese literature ought to be made available to a public experiencing the violence of war. That she defied such sentiments is remarkable in itself; that she did so on the run, as it were, when her relationships with the men in her life were rapidly deteriorating, and when she was in failing health, is extraordinary. And, we mustn’t forget, the second half was written against a biweekly publishing deadline. No wonder, then, that there are problems with the text. While inconsistencies and minor mistakes exist (now corrected), the greater issues are repetition and instances of redundant descriptions that create unwelcome longueurs. She needed an editor. With perhaps an excessive amount of sangfroid, I have taken on that responsibility. In addition to completing the narrative, I have shortened the work by twenty-five or thirty pages, added needed transitions and clarifications, and moved bits of text around to improve the narrative flow. “Book One” was published without chapter divisions; “Book Two” was divided into nine chapters. I have chosen not to call my seventy-five-page addition “Book Three,” opting instead to unify all three parts into twenty-nine chapters, sandwiched between a “prologue” and “epilogue,” two parts of a fictional dialogue between a member of a Hong Kong cultural society and the grown son of the novel’s protagonist following the discovery of a long-lost, anonymous manuscript—the “work.”

To set the scenes as accurately as possible, I have called upon a number of biographies of Xiao Hong in Chinese, my own among them, and have drawn upon a variety of contemporary reports on China and Hong Kong, including Theodore H. White’s Thunder Out of China (1946); China: After Seven Years of War (1945, Hollington K. Tong, ed.); and Anna Louise Strong’s One-Fifth of Mankind: China Fights for Freedom.

I have spent four decades in the wonderful company—figuratively, intellectually, literarily, and emotionally—of Xiao Hong. I can only hope that, now that she would have found our collaboration acceptable.

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

WITMonth 2015: Lost In Translation

WITMonth Posts'

In honor of August as Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), we are featuring two very different posts by translators Howard Goldblatt and Esther Allen on women in translation. According to Meytal Radzinski at Bibliobio, only 30% of works translated into English are written by women. WIT Month is simply one effort part of a larger, concerted movement to address sexism in publishing.

Today’s article comes from Esther Allen, who is co-editor with Susan Bernofsky of In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What it Means, as well as the translator of a number of works from both Spanish and French. In her post, Allen profiles Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx and first translator of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary into English. She argues that Eleanor Marx’s early death is a sobering and urgent example of the importance of recognizing the creative intellectual work of females.

We hope you enjoy reading!

Lost In Translation
By Esther Allen

Few examples of the peril of losing yourself in translation are as powerfully sobering as that of Eleanor Marx. Daughter of Karl, ardent champion of women’s and workers’ rights, Marx was the first translator of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary into English and played the role of Nora in the first English staged reading of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

She read both texts as protests against the plight of the 19th-century housewife, which she thought she could escape by entering into an open romantic partnership with a fellow free-thinker, Richard Aveling—alas, an “unprincipled windbag… with a reptilian air” as he’s described in Rachel Holmes’s fascinating recent biography of Marx. On stage and in life, Aveling played the narcissistic Thorvald to Marx’s Nora—except he was, by any measure, far worse than Ibsen’s character. After fourteen extremely difficult years together, Aveling announced to Marx that he’d married someone else. Shortly thereafter, she committed suicide.

Emma Bovary, of course, is a suicide, and Nora thinks a lot about taking her own life. Holmes argues that these more famous literary performances affected Marx less than her rendering into German of Reuben Sachs, an 1888 novel by her friend Amy Levy. No character in it commits suicide, but a year after it was published its 27-year-old author did. These literary antecedents mattered not at all to Eleanor Marx’s friends, who blamed Aveling for her death. But Aveling himself was terminally ill, as Marx knew well, and survived her by only four months. (more…)

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Reviews of “The Hillary Doctrine”

The Hillary Doctrine

“Decades of research reveal that the subjugation of women is directly linked with state and non-state armed violence. When women are left out of peace building—as in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan—the likelihood of a country sliding back into armed violence increases dramatically.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. In this final post of the week’s feature, we are happy to present a roundup of some of the glowing praise that Hudson and Leidl’s book has received.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

From a review by Micah Zenko that originally ran on the Council for Foreign Relations blog and was subsequently picked up by both Quartz and Newsweek:

During her confirmation hearing to become secretary of state, Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in no uncertain terms, “I want to pledge to you that as secretary of state I view [women’s] issues as central to our foreign policy, not as adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser than all of the other issues that we have to confront.” A thoughtful and nuanced new book by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, The Hillary Doctrine: Sex & American Foreign Policy, evaluates to what extent Secretary Clinton has fulfilled this pledge.

Unsurprisingly, they find many examples where Clinton’s rhetoric does not meet U.S. foreign policy reality. Rather than simply denounce the former secretary of state for this, they try to understand what explains this reoccurring disconnect. For example, the authors contend that a component of Clinton’s hawkish support for intervening in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya was the belief that women’s lives would be markedly improved. Hudson and Leidl disagree, noting, “Military action in and of itself against regimes violating human rights will not protect women. If anything, it unleashes new and usually even more vicious male-bonded groups intent on stripping them of even the most basic human rights.” It is this sort of refreshing analysis that makes this book so important, and one that I highly recommend to anybody interested in elevating women’s voices in world affairs, as well as the practicalities of day-to-day U.S. foreign policymaking.

(more…)

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Women’s Rights Around the World

The Hillary Doctrine

“Decades of research reveal that the subjugation of women is directly linked with state and non-state armed violence. When women are left out of peace building—as in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan—the likelihood of a country sliding back into armed violence increases dramatically.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. In this post, we have excerpted parts from two pieces that have recently appeared in the World Politics Review: first, an interview with Patricia Leidl about government responses to crime against women in Latin America; and second, an article by Leidl and Valerie M. Hudson on the status of women’s rights in Yemen.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

Latin America: “Latin America’s Uneven Response to Growing Violence Against Women”
An interview with Patricia Leidl

WPR: What has prompted the recent public outcry against violence against women in Latin America?

Patricia Leidl: The “recent” outcry over violence against Latin American women is in fact not recent at all. Since the early 1990s, human and women’s rights defenders have been raising the alarm over steadily climbing rates of gender-based violence in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with the sharpest increases beginning in 2006 and escalating by as much as 21 percent each year. In South America, human rights observatories have likewise reported steadily rising rates of violence against women—but most particularly in Brazil, Bolivia and Colombia. According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, of the 25 countries that are home to the highest femicide rates in the world, more than half are located in Latin America.

It is perhaps no coincidence that many of these Latin American countries were embroiled in the “dirty wars” of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. These wars were characterized by the proliferation of small arms and extreme and systematic violence against women, which many scholars now believe set the stage for today’s epidemic of femicide. Human rights activists also speculate that women’s greater economic independence—in the form of low-paying and unskilled factory jobs in the wake of free trade agreements with North America, Asia and Europe—could be contributing to a climate of violence against women in a region whose culture of “machismo” traditionally relegates women to the domestic sphere. (more…)

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Watch the book launch discussion of “The Hillary Doctrine”

The Hillary Doctrine

“Women are not the canaries in the coal mine [telling us that something is wrong in a society]. The state of male-female relations within a society is the coal mine. The explosive instability that results within in a society is actually the canary that’s telling us something is wrong in the coal mine.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. Today, we are happy to present a video from Hudson and Leidl’s book launch, which involves a presentation by Hudson and Leidl, and then a roundtable discussion with prominent scholars and policymakers Rosa Brooks, Kathleen Kuehnast, and Daniela Ligiero.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

No Matter Who’s Elected, We Need the Hillary Doctrine

The Hillary Doctrine

“If Realpolitik implies being “realistic” about the world in which we live, then the Hillary Doctrine is potentially one of most transformative policy changes this nation has ever seen, capable of rendering our foreign policy far more effective than it has been to date.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. Today, we have an article by Hudson and Leidl arguing that regardless of who wins the 2016 presidential election, U.S. policymakers should take the Hillary Doctrine seriously.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

No Matter Who’s Elected, We Need the Hillary Doctrine
By Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

President Barack Obama must be feeling a sense of relief: after being stymied by Congress at every turn, he can now exit the presidency with two major political triumphs to his credit courtesy of the Supreme Court—Obamacare and the legalization of gay marriage.

For even as the champagne bottles pop and long-time same-sex companions rush to tie the knot, the female half of the human population has a good reason to be less than sanguine about the Obama administration’s performance. Although the outgoing president can be credited with a number of high-level female appointments—Janet Yellen and Sonia Sotomayor to name but two—and has fought for the Paycheck Fairness Act and signed the Lily Ledbetter Act, there is one area where his administration has notably lagged: women and foreign policy.

Far from taking a strong stand to affirm the UN resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the administration has been worse than anemic with regard to ensuring that women in Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan and other fragile states take part in negotiations where their participation could mean the difference between war and peace, poverty and prosperity.

And while Obama was quick to condemn Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin on his stance on gay rights, he was completely mute on Putin’s tolerance of open, coerced polygyny and harshly enforced female dress code in Chechnya. So why the disconnect? Are not the rights of one half the population as worth fighting for as those of same-sex couples? (more…)

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Has Hillary Really Helped the World’s Women?

The Hillary Doctrine

“On the one hand, the doctrine that Clinton made a central part of her time at Foggy Bottom was revolutionary; never before had the cause of women been elevated to a priority of American foreign policy and labeled a key national security concern. But talking the talk is not the same as walking the walk, and as Clinton prepares for a presidential candidacy in which she will likely tout both her tenure at State and her potentially history-making role as America’s first woman president, it is only natural to examine whether the “Hillary Doctrine” really worked.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from The Hillary Doctrine that originally ran in Politico Magazine.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

Has Hillary Really Helped the World’s Women?
By Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

Many leaders have had doctrines named after them—from the Monroe Doctrine to the Truman Doctrine to the Bush Doctrine—but so far there’s only that can be ascribed to a woman: the Hillary Doctrine. As Hillary Clinton herself defined it, “the subjugation of women [is] a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country.”

But for proponents of this doctrine, perhaps no irony was crueler than seeing its namesake, then Secretary of State Clinton, smiling broadly in her trademark pantsuit as she walked the red carpet from her plane in Riyadh with the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in 2010. The moment brought to mind an incongruity no less extreme than if Frederick Douglass had been appointed ambassador to the Confederacy and found himself sipping tea and making small talk with Nathan Bedford Forrest. For, in Saudi Arabia, the subordination of women is as peculiar and pernicious an institution as was slavery in the antebellum South.

It wasn’t the last time Hillary Clinton was accused of brushing aside her own self-declared commitment to women’s rights, ostensibly in the name of the national interest. Most recently, as she prepares to launch her all-but-declared presidential campaign, reports have emerged concerning large donations to her family’s foundation from countries including Algeria, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and, of course, Saudi Arabia—a rogues’ gallery of governments with poor records on women’s issues. How could Clinton—she of “women’s rights are human rights” fame, who by all indications will soon try again to break the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” of the White House—still be so cozy with a regime so at odds with one of her core, lifelong causes? (more…)

Monday, July 13th, 2015

How Sex Came to Matter in U.S. Foreign Policy

The Hillary Doctrine

“Many regard international affairs as primarily a male realm, a subject that speaks principally to men about political, economic, and strategic interests largely defined by a male perspective…. [V]iolence against women and girls—and how it relates to national and international security—continues to be hidden in plain sight to this day.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. In this post, we have an excerpt from “How Sex Came to matter in U.S. Foreign Policy,” the first chapter of Hudson and Leidl’s book.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!